A groundbreaking planned for mid-December on a new six-story building in the heart of downtown heralds the start of a long-planned expansion of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s urban campus.

UTSA officials say construction will begin next month on the School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center (SDS/NSCC), a $90 million state-of-the-art hub for education, research, and collaboration between public and private entities working in information security and data science. The project should be complete in July 2022.

UTSA President Taylor Eighmy has said the project will change the trajectory of the university and set it and San Antonio apart as pioneers in data science and cybersecurity.

Construction on the SDS/NSCC is funded in part by the university’s permanent fund and a $15 million gift from philanthropist Graham Weston, a San Antonio real estate developer, co-founder of the tech company Rackspace, and chairman of Community Labs.

Weston said he lent his support because he believes cybersecurity and data science are where UTSA can make its greatest mark.

“We have great expectations for the school and the NSCC. This will be where the world looks for the talent it needs to meet the challenges [the] industry is facing,” Weston stated in an email. “And they’ll find that talent in downtown San Antonio. Businesses are in an arms race for this talent and UTSA is going to produce it at scale. And we believe employers are going to need to be near the wellspring.”

The SDS/NSCC is one part of the first phase in a 10-year plan to expand UTSA’s downtown campus. 

Located on 2.6 acres at 506 Dolorosa, the 167,158-square-foot center will be situated about two blocks east of the downtown campus and adjacent to the San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

The new facility will be home to UTSA’s School of Data Science, with about half of its square footage devoted to classroom, laboratory, and research space for more than 70 faculty members who teach cybersecurity, cloud computing, data and analytics, and artificial intelligence. 

An interior rendering of the UTSA School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center. Credit: Courtesy / Whiting-Turner I Jacobs I Overland

The departments of computer science, computer engineering, statistics and data sciences, information systems and cybersecurity, and the Open Cloud Institute, will be based there.

The center also will house the university’s National Security Collaboration Center, currently operating on UTSA’s main campus with embedded partners from private industry, state and federal government agencies, and military divisions working in cybersecurity. 

The goal is to provide San Antonio’s governing leaders, industry, and community partners access to UTSA’s experts and resources in data science, said Corrina Green, director of UTSA Capital Projects. 

“On every floor we’re kind of intermixing, if you will, the programs so that they are purposely colliding with one another on a daily basis in the building,” Green said. But much of the ground level will be open to the public.

A rendering of the first level of one of UTSA’s main buildings. Credit: Courtesy / Whiting-Turner I Jacobs I Overland

“We’re going to have a cafe, a multi-purpose room, a learning center [where] they’re going to do hacking competitions, right along the river in a portion of the building,” she said. “So it’s really intended to draw the public in a very open and collaborative space for the city of San Antonio.”

One high-tech element UTSA is planning for the learning center will be a “holoportation machine.” Developed by California-based Portl, the phone booth-sized machine can beam live holograms to anywhere in the world, allowing the person being beamed to see, hear, and interact with an audience.

A picture demonstrating the Portl system to be implemented at UTSA. Credit: Courtesy / Portl

UTSA’s 10-year plan for the downtown campus involves four of its colleges – Business; Architecture, Construction and Planning; Health, Community and Policy, and Education and Human Development. 

Planning for the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Careers (IEC) Building of the College of Business, which will be located at 622 Dolorosa on a parcel of land where the Bexar County Jail stood until its demolition last month, is slated to begin in June 2021.

When complete, the 250,000-square-foot facility will connect the School of Data Science to private business and technology entrepreneurs downtown and support classroom-to-career initiatives in the business school. 

Fundraising for the $161 million construction cost is underway, with UTSA seeking support through tuition revenue bonds and from the University of Texas System. And construction timelines are still on track despite the coronavirus pandemic forcing the project planners to work remotely.

“I was skeptical, to be honest, whether or not we could stick to the schedule that we had put out there because we issued the [request for proposals] about a week or two after the pandemic shut everything down, and so we kind of shifted how we were going to do everything to virtual,” Green said. 

“Generally 99 percent of everything has been done virtually, and we have hit every scheduled deadline that we had … and we don’t anticipate any delays.”

UTSA expanded into downtown in 1997, occupying the former Fiesta Plaza Mall on the city’s near West Side. Last year, 1,965 students were taking some classes at the downtown campus, and 2,296 were attending all of their classes there. 

The university projects that by 2023, enrollment in the School of Data Science will reach 6,500.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.