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Coming to southwest Fort Worth: New campus, engineering school for Tarleton State in 2018

Star-Telegram, 2017/12/29

FORT WORTH
By the end of December 2018, you'll be able to drive past a nearly completed 80-acre campus for Tarleton State University in southwest Fort Worth just west of Chisholm Trail Parkway.

Right now, the most exciting thing you'll see in the mostly rural and desolate area is a giant waterline being installed that will run from Chisholm Trail Parkway to an area that will eventually be named Brewer Road.

"The Walton Group is running that waterline back to the area where the main campus will sit," said Kyle McGregor, vice president for Institutional Advancement at Tarleton State University, in an interview. "It's not a whole lot to see right now, but it's exciting."

A groundbreaking is planned Feb. 27, for a three-story, 74,000-square-foot multipurpose education building, sitting at the highest point of the acreage. It's slated to open for classes in fall 2019. The first phase of the construction plan has allocated almost $41 million and the campus will open with about 2,500 students.

"This will be an outreach campus in Fort Worth while our Stephenville location will remain our traditional residential experience of a freshman-through-senior-year college experience," said McGregor.

Tarleton State will also expand its engineering department into a school of engineering offering a full slate of majors that will include mechanical, civil, environmental and electrical engineering degrees. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the expansion in early December.

"We have heard from employers in Fort Worth like Lockheed Martin, Bell Helicopter and other organizations saying that they need more students coming into the workforce with these sets of skills," said McGregor.

Why it's important
The Tarleton-Fort Worth campus on Camp Bowie Boulevard serves more than 1,900 students, growing at an average clip of 16.5 percent per year since starting classes in 2006, according to a statement from F. Dominic Dottavio, university president.

The course offerings, which started out small, have expanded to nursing, criminal justice and more. But now the leased office space at the Hickman and Shaffer buildings is inadequate. Though the university plans to retain its lease on the R.C. Schaffer Building for Medical Lab Sciences, the Hickman lease will not be renewed.

"Tarleton has had a presence in Fort Worth for many years," Dottavio said. "Using leased facilities up to this point, we have seen an annual growth rate of 10-20 percent in enrollment over the last decade."

McGregor said many of the students attending the Fort Worth campus are older.

"It's really workforce-needs focused," said McGregor. "The average age of students is 31 years old, working class and single parents who are in Fort Worth and want to stay in Fort Worth. Most have come to us from Tarrant County College and the make-up of the student body is 60 to 65 percent female."

Key factors
The new campus is pivotal in Tarleton’s development — the university can put down long-term roots in Fort Worth, Dottavio said in a statement.

The first stage of the plan focuses on the first building, supporting roads, parking and infrastructure. The building will contain classrooms, common gathering space, faculty and staff areas, student support and space to meet other needs until more buildings are constructed.

The classrooms will make up 47 percent of the space in the first building.

The Walton Group donated 80 acres of land to the university.

The campus is part of a development boom emerging along Chisholm Trail Parkway, which stretches 28 miles from Fort Worth to Cleburne, and opened in May 2014. Developers are making sure the area winds up with not only the Tarleton state campus, but also retail shopping and a residential area with thousands of homes, a new elementary school for the Crowley district and a 75-acre regional park.

Walton Group bought 1,755 acres from the state's General Land Office in 2014. The land, known as Rock Creek Ranch, is south of McPherson Boulevard and will include the Tarleton campus and commercial development along the toll road, as well as residential neighborhoods set back from the road.

Numbers to know
Tarleton's master plan for the outreach campus has been centered on enrollment projections that call for 9,000 students by 2030, a number that rivals the Stephenville main campus' current 9,800.

But there are still many unknowns: how fast enrollment will grow, whether funding will be available and which projects and programs will become priorities as the campus matures.

To reach its goal, the university would need to grow by 12.5 percent per year until 2020; 10 percent per year through 2025; and 7.5 percent per year through 2030.

McGregor said he's confident the school will reach 9,000.

"That's a pie-in-the-sky prediction right now. It's not a stretch for that to happen and it would be a fairly large outreach campus when you look at other universities in comparison," said McGregor.

This article originally appeared on Star-Telegram.