UTPB looks toward expanding Midland campus

Dr. Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Texas Permian Basin, speaks during an interview on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. (B Kay Richter/Odessa American)

Over the next 20 years, University of Texas Permian Basin has plans to expand its footprint in Midland adding buildings, recreational and meeting spaces.

The plans were presented to the UT System Board of Regents recently. They also include capitalizing on the construction of the Permian Basin Behavioral Health Center, a 200-bed facility scheduled to open in fall 2025 south of the UTPB Midland campus; collaboration with the Permian Strategic Partnership and industry leaders to fill workplace gaps; and continued investments in UTPB.

Also, growing the performing arts spaces, including a potential outdoor amphitheater; integrating the Wildcatters Trail, a hike and bike trail that will connect UTPB’s Odessa campus to the Midland campus and end at Astound Stadium in Midland.

“We have plans over the next 20 years to expand academics, performing arts and other things on the campus. We’re looking at expanding engineering. We’ll look to grow our health science programs,” UTPB President Sandra Woodley said.

“We’re asking the legislature for a new health science building out there. That would be our next building in the queue, if you will, for state funding to grow the number of health science graduates here. The university is in the process of doing a comprehensive study to understand what are all the health care gaps in the Permian Basin and coordinate with our friends at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, Midland College and Odessa College to figure out what are the degree programs for which the university needs to take a leading role,” she added.

Over the next five years, UTPB will be working to expand those programs.

Part of the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center houses UTPB’s music program which will also be expanded.

“We’re growing out of that space, which is a good problem to have. There are plans in the works to expand the performing arts in the Permian Basin as part of an expansion of the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center,” Woodley said.

In November 2023, UTPB and the City of Midland announced that they have been awarded grants from the Texas Transportation Commission to start a 19-mile Wildcatters Trail between Odessa and Midland.

UTPB received $6.5 million dollars to start the trailhead and to expand its trails on the Odessa campus.

“That will include adding more trail space, bike space, lights to go along with that. We’ll be working with the Department of Transportation. They’ll be managing that project and it’ll probably be a year and a half before it gets started, but it’ll coincide with the work that we’re doing on the main campus,” Woodley said.

An analysis by economist Ray Perryman shows 190,913 jobs will be needed in the area by 2040. Of those, 38,284 will require at least a bachelor’s degree.

“The university’s goal to double our numbers in the degrees that we produce on our strategic plan fits very nicely into this. The work that we’re doing is to ensure that the university is responsive to the gaps out there. We know there’s a shortage of accountants, for example. We know there’s a shortage of engineering and certainly healthcare workers … teachers; very big shortages in all of those areas,” Woodley said.

“We’re working really hard to make sure that our plans include the ability to meet that need. Twenty-four percent of all the jobs in the Permian Basin can be linked to UTPB. That includes direct employees of our university, but also any businesses and employees that are related to anyone who’s graduated from UTPB. We already have a very large impact on the Permian Basin, but we know it needs to be much greater,” Woodley said.

The university owns 68 acres and there are other areas that include potential plans for the Permian Promise, a group that includes Diamondback Energy, PSP and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Don Evans.

There are about 250 acres at play to create “a live, work, play area” between the two cities.

Ceremonial shovels dig for the groundbreaking of the Permian Basin Behavioral Health Center Friday, April 28, 2023, at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center. (Ruth Campbell | Odessa American)

“As you know, the Behavioral Health Center broke ground already on about 55 or 60 acres. That will be contiguous to this development, and a central park will go through the middle of this. We’re actively working with the City of Midland to look at grants that will help us play out these park areas and trail areas. Also, there are future plans for other medical components there that Texas Tech Health Sciences Center will most likely run in conjunction with their partners in the region,” she added.

UTPB will grow its academic footprint with a potential second engineering building, a building for academic/workforce training and a health sciences building.

While the behavioral health center is not UTPB’s building, Woodley said UTPB will be working with leaders in the region to make sure they can provide mental health counselors.

“That’s part of our role in behavioral health,” she said.

Woodley said the other thing UTPB plans to do and is raising money for, now that the inside of the CEED Building has been renovated, is to connect the CEED with the engineering building and create more of a campus-like feel.

“That will include having an entrance, having a lakeside terrace on the back, a promenade that links the two together. We have the water and energy research lab and the advanced manufacturing lab. That has a very deep connection to engineering as well. We want to make sure that it connects in a way that is helpful to the students and also to the community,” she said.

“The plans include creating a side entrance where those windows are. We’re looking at a pull-up door that goes out into the promenade. This would allow for events out there and easier access, as I said before, between the activities that are certainly related between the engineering and the CEED Building,” Woodley added.

She showed an early rendering of the terrace and promenade. There will also be student spaces and outdoor classrooms.

There will also be an expanded back deck for outdoor learning experiences and community events.

“It would include a cantilever deck that goes out over Energy Lake,” Woodley said.

“These are all just very early looks at what may be out there,” she noted.

The main part of UTPB’s plans are the academic buildings, expanding the Wagner Noël and making sure that corner is a “beautiful, functional community space as a start to this new development.”

The Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center, 1310 N. FM 1788, Midland.

They are hoping to build the outdoor amphitheater, the loading dock connected to the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center, other performance spaces, academic and office space for running the Wagner Noël and the new amphitheater.

A mobility hub also is being planned.

“It’ll be a place for people to come. We hope that there’ll be lots of bikes and mixed use and restaurants and all the things that can really help with that. Again, in talking to the Regents my goal was to make sure that they understood what the aspirations are. These are certainly mostly long-term aspirations, but we’re excited about being a part of this overall development between the two cities that I think will really make a big difference,” Woodley said.

On the Odessa campus, there is more than $90 million worth of renovation and construction going on. Woodley said construction will probably go on for two or three years.

“We’re about to get started on the Mesa Building renovations. Those will start in April. We’re still working on the construction documents for the quad and the main entrance into the university and the signage. The Bright Stars Memorial is up and going. If you haven’t been out there, the dirt is moved and they have it ready for some of the construction to be completed. I’m really excited about that. The art piece should be up. It should be well enough along by August so that we can have that ceremony on the actual spot of the art in August,” Woodley said.

That first part should take about six months.

She said they are still working on the phasing. They are starting with the first floor, which includes all the students services, which will create a one-stop shop for students.

They will move to the third floor, the second floor and then the fourth floor.

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

The Bright Stars Memorial commemorates the Aug. 29, 2019, mass shooting that killed eight, including the gunman, and wounded 25.

“They’re making very good progress and (are) very much focused on the timeline to make sure that we can have that ceremony out there,” Woodley said.