Land donation clears path for UH expansion in Pearland

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A land donation from the city to help the University of Houston-Clear Lake secure a grant to build a new science and technology building earned approval from Pearland City Council Monday.

The donation doesn’t guarantee state funding to build the expansion, but was a necessary step. The push to expand UH has garnered much local support.

Getting Monday’s measure through City Council was not a slam dunk, passing by a 3-2 vote.

“I don’t want to vote ‘no’ on it, but I have questions and concerns that aren’t answered – and I’m not able to vote ‘yes’ on it tonight,” Councilman Keith Ordeneaux said.

Councilman Scott Sherman cast the other “no” vote, expressing frustration that a representative from UH was not present Monday to answer questions.

Sherman has withheld support in the past when a representative from involved parties, including bidders for city contracts, are not present during council discussion.

“This is not a free-for-all,” he commented.

The Pearland campus site is being purchased by UH-Clear Lake from the city in a rent-to-own agreement, and the grant application requires the school demonstrate it either owns the land or has a commitment to do so.

“It’s just a letter of intent,” Councilman Greg Hill said. “We can always then bring them in.”

Mayor Tom Reid expressed concern that not supporting the measure Monday may hurt the funding chances of the college’s expansion, something for which many community leaders have worked diligently.

“We’ve been trying to work on this,” he said, “and anything that gets in the way of that I think is unacceptable.”

District 29 State Rep. Ed Thompson sponsored legislature to authorize the requested Tuition Revenue Bonds for the new 60,000 square-foot expansion to the Pearland campus, and local and UH leaders have advocated at the state level to bring the new building to fruition, Reid pointed out.

Ordeneaux stated his position: “I don’t have major heartburn over it; I have minor heartburn over it – I’ll be honest. We are bending over backwards to get a college into town, and if we’re doing it to say we have a four-year college here, that’s great.

“But are they going to be able to maintain and operate that building? Are we going to donate land for a building they are going to turn around and sell? There’s no one here to answer that question.”

Councilman Hill pointed out that Pearland’s own representative is behind the bill, and he didn’t want to hold the entire project hostage simply because there was no UH representative at Monday night’s meeting.

Sherman responded that there were certainly other bills Thompson was behind that he didn’t support, either, thus that particular argument wasn’t valid.

In the end, three other council members supported the measure.

“Resolution R-2015-49 Passes with just a little bit of embarrassment, 3-2,” Reid commented for the record.

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