New citrus center will help industry, community
KINGSVILLE - June 15, 2006
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Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill recently authorizing tuition revenue bonds for public higher education institutions across the state. One part of the bill provides for $9.5 million for a new Citrus Center for Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
The current Citrus Center, located in Weslaco, is housed in World War II-vintage barracks that were converted over 60 years ago to meet the scientific research and educational needs of the citrus industry in the Rio Grande Valley, said Dr. Michael Gould, professor and director of the Citrus Center.
“Funding for the construction of a new center is important to the Lower Rio Grande Valley because it represents a continued investment in scientific research, education and agricultural service in one of the fastest growing regions of the country,” he added.
“The current accommodations are not only inadequate to meet the many demands required of a scientific facility, but they also are prohibitively expensive to maintain and repair on a daily basis,” Gould said. “The new facilities will provide state-of-the-art laboratories that will facilitate scientific research as well as many educational endeavors.”
The new building will include an entire second floor dedicated to classroom facilities equipped with the latest in communications technologies to facilitate distance education, said Dr. John da Graca, deputy center director.
Dr. Ron Rosati, dean of the College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences, said the classrooms will not only be used by his college, but also by other college faculty at A&M-Kingsville. “We will be able to offer more classes in the Valley to students who can’t come to the Kingsville campus because of family commitments or work obligations.”
The first floor, Rosati said, will include facilities necessary to keep the Citrus Center on the cutting-edge of research and service to the Valley citrus industry. “We are working on developing new varieties of citrus that we haven’t seen before, like a new grapefruit that is sweeter and even redder than the Rio Red, and high in lycopene.”
“For a number of years, we have been in need of a new facility to replace the existing and barely functioning structures of our Citrus Center,” said Dr. Rumaldo Z. Juárez, university president. “This need has been a priority for Texas A&M-Kingsville for the last four years and we are delighted that the $9.5 million tuition revenue bond for this new facility has finally become a reality.”
“The Citrus Center is an important driver of the citrus industry in the Valley and the breakthrough research conducted by our faculty and staff at the center contributes valuable information for the future of the industry,” Juárez said.
“The state’s investment here is important not only in assuring the continued success and competitiveness of the high quality fruit that is produced here, but it also is a strong indication that the state Legislature values this dynamic part of the state by providing a conduit for Rio Grande Valley students to achieve loftier goals in research and education,” Gould said.
The new building will enable the Citrus Center and A&M-Kingsville to continue to assist citrus producers as they face increasingly difficult challenges. “While the Citrus Center has a long and successful history of helping the industry overcome production-limiting issues of the past, we’re left with both persistent and emerging challenges, including the threat of a formidable citrus disease complex, including citrus canker and citrus greening, that is slowly making its way here from other citrus producing regions of the nation and the world,” he added.
“The Citrus Center has long served as the main source of scientific research for the Valley’s $80 million citrus industry, providing new and improved citrus varieties and management strategies for pests and diseases,” da Graca said. “We also are home to the state’s virus-free citrus budwood program and beginning in September, state law will require any new planting of commercial citrus varieties be derived from this virus-free source.”
The center has 30 full-time employees and provides graduate and undergraduate laboratory training and course work to as many as 20 students, da Graca said. They also offer college-level agricultural classes to students nationwide via the Internet.
Da Graca said many individuals are responsible for helping the Citrus Center receive the necessary funding, including State Sen. Eddie Lucio, State Rep. Armando Martinez, President Juárez, former President Marc Cisneros, Dr. Ron Rosati and Dr. Allen Rasmussen, dean and associate dean, respectively, of the College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences; Dr. Jose Amador, former director of the Citrus Center and the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center; and citrus industry representatives Ray Prewett, Jimmie Steidinger and Tommy Garcia.
Tuition revenue bonds, like the ones approved to replace the Citrus Center, are authorized by the Legislature for education and research related facilities for public institutions of higher education. They provide a good faith “cash advance” to universities and allow those universities to issue debt against future revenue from tuition to build classrooms, laboratories and other essential facilities.
The goal is to be in the new Citrus Center by 2010, but the university has several steps to take before reaching that goal. Now that the bonds have received legislative approval, the university must request and obtain project and financing approval from The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. After that, more detailed plans are submitted to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for evaluation. That evaluation and bond applications are then submitted to various state offices for approval and finally to the Bond Review Board for final approval before the bonds are issued.
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