Bright Stars Memorial moving forward

A rendering of a night view of the Bright Stars Memorial. Maryland sculptor Jim Sanborn’s piece is complete and in Odessa. (Courtesy Photo)

The campus transformation at University of Texas Permian Basin is likely to take three years and its priority is the Bright Stars Memorial, which will be completed sooner.

This landmark will be a place for the Permian Basin community to gather and reflect while enhancing the University’s campus transformation efforts, which coincide with UTPB’s 50th anniversary, the UTPB website details. It also marks the Aug. 31, 2019, mass shooting.

“The design work is coming along beautifully,” President Sandra Woodley said. “We’re working right now on the memorial to finalize the design, working with the artist, working with the architectural firm, getting all the information to try to make sure that we’ve got that ready to go as quickly as we can.”

“Then of course, we’ve got to get the construction teams involved and that’ll take a little time to be able to go through the process, to be able to go out and get the construction team that will actually be doing the work. We’re hoping to be able to get shovel in the ground in the next several months,” Woodley added.

It’s hoped that by the end of spring, work will be occurring.

“It always takes longer than you think to get all of those pieces together. But the design is beautiful. The art piece is ready to go up. We hope to have the ceremony for the Bright Stars Memorial in August at the site. We know it won’t be completely finished. But it should be finished enough that we can have the community out there to view the artwork and see the end result,” Woodley said.

UTPB President Sandra Woodley talks about campus transformation plans in her office Friday. The Bright Stars Memorial marking the Aug. 31, 2019, mass shooting is complete, but there is still work to be done on its surroundings. (Ruth Campbell | Odessa American)

Asked whether there would be another event like the one in August to commemorate the mass shooting, Chief of Staff Tatum Hubbard said there is a committee working on that headed by Odessa Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Renee Earls.

“The same entities that came together last time will come together this time and I think there’s a plan to make it even more significant; so multiple days of community involvement around this,” Hubbard said.

She added that one of the driving forces behind this is Kelby Davis, whose daughter was injured in the shooting.

“She really feels passionately that we have to find some light in that tragedy. She wants to involve … community service and reflection and being much more purposeful. There have been some really good conversations and I think it would culminate in another event, probably a sunrise event on our campus,” Hubbard said.

The memorial itself is complete, but there is still work to do on its surroundings.

“The art is a cylinder with light that emanates over a plaza,” Woodley said. But the plaza isn’t built yet.

The memorial will be 11 feet high and 5 feet in diameter, Executive Director of Odessa Arts Randy Ham said in a text message.

“The cylinder itself is not much use until you get the plaza together and all of the pieces so that you can actually appreciate the end result and of the impact of that art,” Woodley said.

The memorial will be on a rise so you can see it around the community.

“You’ll have the plaza be places for people to sit in and view the art,” Woodley said.

Woodley said they don’t want to place the art until they have the ground prepared and the plaza completed.

“It won’t be completely finished by next August, but we hope to be able to have at least … part of the plaza in place and the artwork itself so that we can have the memorial there,” she added.

The campus transformation also includes signage, the quad and the trails.

“Most of it will be done in the first year or two, but it’s going to take a little bit longer to get all of the pieces together. In addition to the campus transformation, we’re programming the complete renovation of the Mesa Building itself. For the next three years, we’ll have lots of fun work ahead of us to fully transform this campus and this building,” Woodley said.

“We also have fundraising efforts to be able to provide some additional funds. We don’t have enough to complete all of the design that we have for the campus transformation and the building, but we’re prioritizing our projects right now and working with the community and potential donors to really optimize the work that we’re going to be doing for the community on our campus,” she said.

“We still have money to raise to complete the design on the Bright Stars Memorial. I think that work’s going very well. Over the next year, we’ll be working with the community and donors who want to be a part of it. They can contact us at the university if they’re interested in being a part of this beautiful memorial. I think, as Tatum said, the memorial really is set to signify the resiliency of our community, in the face of any tragedy that comes our way and I think that’s the light that the family is trying to show. This can be a beautiful park and a place for people who come and walk and spend time on our campus.”

“It’s a testament to the determination, the resiliency and the close-knit nature of our community coming together in the face of a tragedy and supporting each other as we go forward. We’re really excited about this memorial for a lot of reasons,” Woodley said.

Part of any transformation is to have symbols and art for the community on campus, she added.

“We want to make sure that the community understands that this is your university and we want to be part of the health and wellness and the close-knit nature of our community here on our campus,” Woodley said.

Renovations of the library and CEED Building are almost done.

Woodley said the construction itself and all the pieces should be done by the end of the spring.

“The holdup for it to be completely finished is the backlog in what it takes to get the technology in there and the furniture. Like everything, the supply chain has caught us, so it is likely to be maybe summer or fall before we have every piece of the technology, the furniture and all the pieces that will go in there. We’re ready to show it off … in the coming months. It’s going fantastic,” she added.

Asked if UTPB has requested additional funds from the legislature since there is a surplus this year, Woodley said she has a long list.

“We are laser focused here on meeting the workforce needs here in the community. The Behavioral Health Center coming up, making sure that we have mental health-related resources in our degree programs and helping the community with some of those shortages, so we’re asking for some of (that) special-item funding as well,” Woodley said.

She added that they want to build a health sciences building and have asked for a $175 million tuition revenue bond for that. UTPB received about a $45 million TRB for the campus transformation during the last legislative session.

The most recent TRB before that was six years ago.

“(It’s) probably less likely that they’ll do a construction package after doing one just recently, but we’ve got it in there anyway just to see,” Woodley said.

Woodley said their main priority for the legislative session is to make sure they maintain their base funding and the comprehensive regional funding that was new last biennium for institutions like UTPB and across the state.

“We received about a half a million dollars from that fund, and we’re hoping that will continue. That’s helped us with advising and student success initiatives. We have great needs … as our as our campus begins to grow. … We’re on a roll on the enrollment. That’s what it’s going to take for us to be able to double the numbers of degrees that we (produce). That is in our strategic plan to meet the workforce needs here,” Woodley said.

Asked about recruiting nursing faculty to help educate new nurses and ease the persistent nursing shortage here, Woodley said they are in the middle of recruiting faculty right now.

“We have a search for the director of nursing and several other nursing faculty. We’ve had good luck so far, but it’s always a struggle. Our nursing program is significantly growing. You may recall the PSP (Permian Strategic Partnership) gift to increase the nursing. We’ve got more demand for nursing than we have slots. … With the scholarship dollars that they provided and the Falcon Free, our nursing program is growing. We will be working with the nursing board to increase the number of slots over the next year so that we can take advantage of the growth,” Woodley said.

She added that part of the PSP grant provided help with faculty lines as well.

“We’re able to have the funds that we need to go out and hire the faculty, but it’s always a challenge for those really high-level faculty. We’re doing pretty good on the recruiting,” Woodley said.

She added that they have candidates in the pipeline that are really promising.