Adalberto Toledo | Staff Writer
UNT president Neal Smatresk recently outlined the university’s plans for 2016. He is entering his third year as the Denton campus leader and said the administration will begin updating and renovating UNT, in addition to breaking in new facilities.
Smatresk will, however, face problems in the research area, where fundraising has seen some troubles and in the Student Success Center, which does not yet have its facilities.
“We’re continuing to pursue our strategic plans,” Smatresk said. “Proceeding to implement the stuff we said we’d due at the state of the university address.”
Fundraising and research
Furthering its attempt to become a tier-one institution, Smatresk said UNT continues to bring in a more diverse staff and bring the school more grant money.
“What we do is very transparent,” Smatresk said. “So we’re in the process of making improvements to our research programs and have already made research institutes.”
The beginning of renovations to the Science Research Building began at the end of 2015 after nearly two years of inactivity. It will open fall 2017, Smatresk said, after $15.5 million in renovations.
Fundraising is ahead of last year, though problems with the oil market may put some strain on Smatresk’s fundraising efforts. The recent plunge in oil prices left many of the more wealthy UNT alumni and donors strapped for cash.
“I’m a little worried about the current state of the stock market where people have lost 20-30 percent of their holding, and oil where the price has dropped so much,” Smatresk said.
Money for a new campus here and there
Among Smatresk’s plans are visions to build new dorms soon. He is confident the university will be able to meet the demands of student residents with the 500 beds currently on the drawing board.
He said $8.6 million would be spent on renovations to extend housing at UNT, $5.5 million for Coliseum renovations, as well as $1.3 million for parking and transportation improvements. Another $2 million is budgeted for anticipated land purchases, as well as $3 million for renovations of 1500 N. Interstate 35, where the Sack ’n Save was located.
The College of Visual Arts and Design building, funded through $70 million worth of tuition revenue bonds, will involve Hickory Hall, modifications to the Oak Street Complex, a pop-up restaurant as well as the Collar-Lab — a collaborative work space and creative space modeled after the new facilities opened in Frisco this semester.
“Work groups are forming to get fall’s curriculum off the ground,” Smatresk said. “I’m really excited about that.”
Renovations will come to Sage Hall as the Student Success Center breaks ground, an initiative to improve graduation and retention rates at UNT. The first floor will be renovated, and student success initiatives will begin moving into Sage Hall as the renovations are completed.
“It is and it isn’t [on schedule],” Smatresk said. “We’re trying to figure out how much money we have to renovate Sage Hall.”
Smatresk said by next fall Sage should have its first floor fully functional, and floors two and three will be dealt with at a later date. Programs will begin to be implemented between now and the end of the semester, with core programs in place by next fall.
Improving finances and recruitment
UNT will implement new accounting software, which will shut down the ability to make transactions for a week some time in March, Smatresk said. The budget does not show how much this new software will cost, nor do previous budgets.
“[The software] will launch in February with training, for implementation in March,” Smatresk said. “Given where we were a couple of years ago, this is a big advance.”
Smatresk said this new software constitutes a massive changeover. He added that anyone who manages money at UNT would have to learn the new system, an issue Smatresk called problematic.
“[Changing over] will create some problems,” Smatresk said. “No real transactions can take place. That’s going to be a sensitive period for us.”
Smatresk said the changeover would only allow for three to four years of audits to appear on the new system. He said it would be “wildly expensive” to reconcile more than four years of data, making previous audits “ancient history.”
Another software update, Customer Relations Management, will be implemented through the Division of Enrollment to better recruit, enroll and retain students, Smatresk said. Enrollment management expenses will total $1.47 million of which $730,000 will be spent on the new recruitment software.
New tech in old places
Along with software updates, hardware updates will continue in older campus buildings.
“The tech out there [in Frisco] is distinctly different [and] based more on collaboration,” Smatresk said. “So there’s collaboration tables where students can do things together in teams. We think those are skills that are going to be valuable in the future.”
Most of the older buildings on campus will not receive any major technological or aesthetic renovations, but Smatresk said the university is finishing up the standardization of technology in every classroom: Wi-Fi access, projectors and up-to-date computers. Smatresk added it takes time to update everything, and that it cannot all be done at once.
There are no exact ideas on how to better the classroom experience with these new technologies, though the emphasis on collaborative workspaces will continue.
“I won’t tell you we have all the answers yet,” Smatresk said. “But what we have is a new testament.
Featured Image: President Neil Smatresk outlines his plans for the University going forward into 2016. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer