Texas A&M to Convert Air Force Base to Large-Scale Education Center

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

The Texas A&M University System has announced plans to spend $150 million to convert the former Bryan Air Force Base, a 2,000 acre World War II facility, into a research and development campus. A&M acquired the base in 1962, and it has since been known as the Riverside Campus.

"It is a big idea, and it is important that the Texas A&M System future big ideas," said A&M System Chancellor John Sharp, who announced the initiative this week. "It is only through big ideas like this that Texas can achieve its goals for higher education." Under the new plan, the Riverside Campus will be renamed the RELLIS Campus, an acronym of Texas A&M's core values of respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity, and self-service.

Specifically, the plan calls for seven new buildings, and construction on the first building could begin as early as September. According to Mike Kennedy writing for American School & University, the focus of these research facilities will include robotics, driverless and connected vehicles, advanced manufacturing, large-scale testing, smart power grids, and water systems.

"Too many ideas die between the laboratories and the market, and we want to help you change that," said Sharp. He noted that the research promoted and generated by the new centers would spur the "double-barreled economic development for the Brazos Valley."

"This will be a magnate for technology companies locating their research facilities to the Brezos Valley and for thousands of additional students to study here, contributing to the local economy. It's a great one-two punch for economic development." Sharp also said that officials are consulting with all of the 11 universities in the A&M system about developing programs that benefit all interested parties.

The site will also feature an education center that will offer four-year degree program to students not admitted into Texas A&M University. These students could start their community college careers at the center or transfer from community colleges to complete their degrees there. They could also later be accepted into Texas A&M.

Eventually, the University estimates that as many as 10,000 such students will be studying at the education center. The center will also offer programs in professional development, short courses, and continuing education.

Recently, the Texas Commissioner of Higher Education released a new strategic plan for higher education in Texas. According to the TheEagle, the plan calls for Texas to increase the number of degree or certificate-holding Texans between 24 to 34 years old to 60% and to increase the annual number of degrees and certificates awarded from 300,000 to 550,000 by 2030. The Texas A&M system views the creation of these new centers as a means to help accomplish such an end.

The $150 million investment is being provided from state appropriations and gifts from donors, and the funding includes $25 million to demolish old buildings, rebuild roads, and update utilities. The site's chapel and two hangars will be renovated and preserved to commemorate the site's role in training pilots in WWII.

Since WWII, as Ralph Haurwitz, a contributor to The Statesman, notes, the property has been used to train firefighters and law enforcement officers. Those services will continue.

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