The University of Houston Magazine

by Michelle Hillen

Before the first brick was laid for the university’s first building, the 110 swampy acres donated for the permanent campus had to be drained and landscaped by 250 part-time national Youth Administration Workers. But once completed in 1939, the Roy Gustav Cullen Memorial Building was an Art Deco wonder, with 21 classrooms, library space, a large lecture hall and the first air-conditioning system on a college campus in the United States.

Those twin traditions of economy and innovation continue today as the university embarks on more than 2 million square feet of new construction –– square footage amounting to more than 41 new Roy G. Cullen buildings –– designed to take the university to the next level in stature, innovation and student success rates.

“Housing not only is associated with a lively campus life,
but it also is associated with greater retention and higher graduation rates.”

In August alone, the UH System Board of Regents approved $240 million in construction projects to help create a Tier-One environment at UH. Those projects include many that will recruit top-notch students and attract top-tier faculty and staff.


“It’s a very exciting time to be here,” says David Irvin, associate vice president for plant operations. “The amount of construction we have under design or under construction is unprecedented in terms of the life of this university.”

The projects, ranging from 34,000 square feet of classroom space to a new residence hall with more than 1,000 undergraduate beds, each will play an important role as the campus develops a more urban feel, reflective of the city of Houston and a Tier-One research institution.

“I think the buildings reflect the progress we are making toward the very ambitious goals that we have for the University of Houston and the people we serve,” says Elwyn Lee, vice president for student affairs. Housing projects, including the new residence hall (Wheeler Housing East) — set to open in fall 2010 — and Calhoun Lofts, a luxury loft apartment complex designed with 984 beds for mostly graduate and professional students, will help achieve a goal of 25 percent of enrolled students living in on-campus housing by 2015. That is the level needed to be deemed a “residential campus,” Lee says.

“I think when we get to the 25-percent level, and we have a large percentage of freshmen living on campus, the image of UH as a commuter school will change,” he says.

In addition to contributing to a more urban environment, research shows that more on-campus student housing is directly correlated with student success, Lee says.

“Housing not only is associated with a lively campus life, but it also is associated with greater retention and higher graduation rates,” he says. “The students who live on campus tend to spend more time on campus; they tend to be more involved in campus organizations, and, therefore, tend to be more attached.”

Eva Gao, who is working toward a joint M.B.A. and law degree, moved into the new Calhoun Lofts in August. “It’s very convenient for me,” Gao says. “And after seeing it, I really liked it. It is very modern … and the price is definitely great.”

With a full array of services, ranging from cooking classes, movie nights and study rooms, Gao says there are probably more amenities than she actually needs. But it’s nice to have the option to use them.


In addition to striving to meet the needs of on-campus students, the university also has tried to improve amenities for students who commute to campus.

In October 2008, the “commuter lounge” opened in the University Center, providing lounge space, study rooms, computers and televisions for commuting students. “We wanted to try to connect them with the university — give them a home away from home. They can’t go back to the residence halls. They have nowhere to lounge between classes,” says Chalen Rice, commuter service coordinator. “We just wanted to make efforts to create more spaces for them to be able to come and feel comfortable.”

In November 2008, students took the first step toward a $100 million upgrade of the University Center. In a campuswide vote, they approved a fee increase to pay for renovations. (The fee increase has been approved by the Texas Legislature and now must go before the UH System Board of Regents and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.) The upgrade, which would be performed in phases and completed by 2014, would include additional study and meeting spaces for student organizations, a centralized conference center, more retail and dining options, new outdoor lounging spaces, an outdoor amphitheater and a sleek new design.


Other renovations and new construction on campus benefit all students and contribute to the university’s goal of reaching Tier One. For instance, a planned overhaul of Fleming Hall will include space for new chemistry and biology labs, Irvin says.

A Tier-One university requires top-notch faculty, and a top-notch faculty require top-notch research and academic facilities. New projects currently under construction, such as the $9 million Michael J. Cemo Hall project and the build-out of the Science and Engineering Research Center, will expand and enhance the university’s research space and classrooms that support new technologies.

Another project in the planning stage is the Health and Biomedical Sciences Center. Included in this facility is the Vision Institute at the UH College of Optometry, which will include 137,000 square feet of classroom, a surgical center and lab space, Irvin says. More than $5.5 million has been raised to date for the building.

Other renovations and new construction on campus benefit all students and contribute to the university’s goal of reaching Tier One.

The project’s lead donors are TSO (Network of Independent Optometrists), Essilor of America, Inc. and Vision Source. For more information on the Vision Institute:

Equally exciting is the recently announced UH Energy Research Park, which will add about 600,000 square feet to the university on property located a half a mile east of the main campus. Much of that space will be used to develop an energy research center focusing on everything from alternative energy research, such as wind and solar, to traditional oil and gas recovery, as well as work force training and development (see energy research park story).

Expanded research facilities are key to the university’s quest toward Tier-One status. “It will definitely help us get to Tier One,” Irvin says. “It will provide the kinds of facilities we need to go after grants from the National Institutes of Health and some of the other major funding organizations.”


East Campus Parking Garage
The most frequent issue raised by students is parking, so new parking garages are an important piece in the campus’s evolution. As existing lots are being removed to make way for new buildings, the university is moving forward with a series of planned garages to help meet the parking needs of students, faculty, staff and visitors.

The first of those garages — the East Parking Garage located near Calhoun Lofts — includes 1,500 spaces and opened in September. Another garage is planned on the west side of campus near Robertson Stadium for at least 2,000 cars, Irvin says.

The new parking, residential and classroom space will help to increase the density on campus, giving it a more urban feel, says Joseph Meppelink, adjunct assistant professor of architecture.

“I think between having a ring road that creates boundaries, structure parking and light rail that comes into the campus, it begins to feel like a traditional urban campus,” he says. “We already have great skyline views. UH has some very urban characteristics already.”


As the university evolves, it will continue to strive for innovation — implementing changes that will provide students with more access to amenities and services and a better foundation for success.

“A lot of what we are doing is about enhancing quality,” Lee says, explaining that students will benefit from the addition of research, classroom and residential space, as well as the hiring of top-flight faculty.

And as state funding for new buildings grows tighter, the university also will continue its tradition of economy — making the most of existing funds and reaching out to find new funding sources, Irvin says.

“I think we are going forward with a very compelling story that says, ‘Here is where we are, and here is where we want to go, and here is why that is important,’” he says. “And if you help us go there, here is what it will mean for this city and this state.’”


Private support is essential to the University of Houston’s success. Donors’ generous gifts play a major role in the evolution of the campus — allowing faculty, students, staff and visitors the opportunity to experience the best resources available for pursuing knowledge, preparing for real-world experiences and developing a sense of community. Here are a few of the major projects on campus that are transforming the campus landscape.

MICHAEL J. CEMO HALL: This C.T. Bauer College of Business $9 million project will construct a 34,000-square-foot building with a 400-seat lecture hall, three 80-seat classrooms and an academic center. The project’s lead donors are Michael J. Cemo, John Stubblefield, Houston Endowment Inc., John and Darlene McNabb and John and Debbie Moore.

HILTON HOTEL: The $12.8 million renovation of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management includes major upgrades of all teaching areas, cosmetic upgrades of public areas and hotel rooms, building infrastructure and structural upgrades. The college received a $6.5 million lead gift from the Conrad N. Hilton Fund — an affiliate of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

SCIENCE BUILDING RENOVATIONS: The $23 million renovation of a portion of Science and Research Building 1 and all of Fleming Hall will reorganize and relocate labs –– reconfiguring them for greater functionality –– and renovate the entire building.

UNDERGRADUATE HOUSING: This $50 million project includes the construction of a 1,000 bed undergraduate residential facility adjacent to Moody Towers.

DINING RENOVATIONS: A $12 million renovation of the dining facility in Moody Towers Residence Halls will create an appealing dining experience for students, faculty and staff.

PARKING GARAGE: The $18 million 450,000-square-foot East Parking Garage will offer 1,500 spaces for Calhoun Lofts residents, students and visitors.

For more on construction projects vist the Web site and then click on the FP&C Major Capital Projects Status link.

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