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The transformation of “Block 71,” the site bounded by West 6th and 7th Streets and Lavaca and Colorado Streets, is under way. Formerly home to UT System-owned Ashbel Smith Hall (ASH) and Claudia Taylor Johnson Hall (CTJ), the site is now leased by developer Trammell Crow, which is planning a 36-story office tower and mixed-use development.
Garages 3 and 4 already have been demolished and most of the debris has been removed. The next milestone will be demolition of the ASH building. Trammell Crow’s preference is to demolish the building by implosion, but must wait for a blasting permit from the City of Austin before finalizing plans.
If the implosion method is approved and permits issued in time, demolition is tentatively planned for the morning of Sunday, March 25. Implosions create a large amount of dust that could spread throughout a multi-block area, along with the slight possibility of localized flying debris. As a result, at least a full block in every direction will be cordoned off, including the UT System Building. For those interested in watching the demolition, Trammell Crow has offered to provide footage if cameras are set up to capture the implosion.
On demolition day, the UT System Building will be closed. All air intakes and exhausts will be sealed to keep dust out of the building. No vehicles will be allowed to remain in the garage over this weekend. The garage will be swept immediately after the demolition is complete and the dust has settled. Prior to demolition, traffic barriers will be extended along the block at West 7th Street and erected along Colorado Street and West 6th Street. Facilities Management is coordinating with the demolition contractor and will advise System Administration staff and tenants of final plans and precautions needed.
After ASH is demolished and the debris removed, construction will be able to begin. A rendering of the proposed office tower is pictured above. Plans also include an interior makeover of the CTJ building. Expect continued street and sidewalk closures through debris removal and construction.
As plans are being finalized to demolish the Ashbel Smith Building (ASH), it’s nice to know that an important artifact of the old building has found new life within the UT System family. One of the three brass chandeliers that once hung in the ASH board room is now prominently displayed in the rotunda of the UT Tyler Alumni House.
UT Tyler had just begun designing its new Alumni House in 2014 when the announcement was made that a new UT System Building would replace ASH. Rodney Mabry, then president of UT Tyler, had often admired the chandeliers, and asked whether they might be available for the Alumni House. Once decisions were made about what to do with all the ASH artifacts, UT Tyler was offered the chandelier. The timing was perfect—the call came just as the university was struggling to find the perfect lighting for the Alumni House rotunda. UT Tyler staff members were soon on their way to Austin to pick up the 600-pound chandelier, which had been packed into 35 crates of solid brass pieces individually wrapped in cheesecloth.
The Alumni House officially opened last September with the chandelier installed as a building focal point. This striking piece of UT System history now will continue illuminating events and occasions for students, families, alumni and visitors for years to come.
With work beginning on the Block 71 project, traffic around the intersection of West 7th and Lavaca Streets has become even more difficult. Several car accidents have occurred, likely caused by drivers heading west on 7th Street illegally using the second lane from the left to turn north onto Lavaca. It may be confusing for some who recall what that lane was a left-turn lane but now the only legal left turn lane is the one on the far left.
Stay safe by being on the lookout for drivers making the illegal left turn, and make sure you’re not guilty of that habit. Move to the far left lane on 7th before making a turn onto Lavaca.
There has also been a problem with drivers parking in front of UFCU on Lavaca, sometimes two in a line. Facilities Management has contacted the City of Austin regarding both safety issues, requesting additional signage and police patrols for assistance.
In the parking garage, striping and traffic delineators/posts will be added to help guide traffic to the exits on the 3rd level. It is hoped that dedicating more space for a wide turn will make it easier for large vehicles to exit the garage. Additional options continue to be discussed.
System Administration staff now have the opportunity to get to know--and learn from—leaders as part of a new program coordinated by Staff Council. The “Conversations with Leadership” speaker series builds on a similar program once offered through the Ambassadors, who recommended that it be open to all. Each month, a System Administration leader will discuss programs, efforts or initiatives he or she oversees, with the opportunity for staff to ask questions and provide input. The series kicked off with a presentation by Phil Dendy, chief compliance and risk officer, and continues on March 22 with a presentation by Dan Sharphorn, vice chancellor and general counsel. The sessions are scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. in the 2nd floor multipurpose room. Bring your lunch and join us!
During this cold and flu season, don’t forget you have the option of seeing a healthcare provider just by going up to the telemedicine clinic on the 19th floor. The pilot launched by the Office of Employee Benefits with The University of Texas Medical Branch and The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing continues, giving System Administration staff the opportunity to consult with UTMB healthcare providers remotely with the on-site assistance of UT Austin nursing staff.
Before your first visit, contact the Office of Employee Benefits at 512.499.4616. to get an application to enroll in MyChart with UTMB. Once enrolled, you can go to the clinic on the 19th floor anytime between 8 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., Monday through Friday. Appointments are on a first-come, first-served basis. Best of all, visits are free for a limited time. For more information, call OEB at 512.499.4616.
Most UT System employees are familiar with the Permanent University Fund (PUF), the endowment established to support The University of Texas and Texas A&M University Systems. But many may not be as aware that the money comes from earnings generated on West Texas land that was set aside by the Texas Constitution in 1876. And University Lands is the department responsible for maximizing that revenue through its management of the more than 2.1 million acres known as the PUF Lands.
Approximately 200 oil and gas operating companies currently work on the PUF Lands, operating about 9,000 producing wells. In addition, almost all of the 2.1 million acres are leased out for grazing and ranching, as well as contracted for public schools, churches, highways, wind farms, solar farms, power lines, pipelines, and even a vineyard/winery. University Lands also sells groundwater to local municipalities and industry, and manages a variety of environmental programs. An online video provides more information on the PUF Lands and the University Lands Office.
“Our largest revenue driver is income from mineral leases, so much of our staff is focused on negotiating and managing oil and gas leases, ensuring appropriate regulatory permitting and reporting for these leases, and accounting for all related royalty payments,” stated Mark Houser, chief executive officer of University Lands.
“Environmental stewardship has always been and continues to be a priority for University Lands, so we also spend a significant amount of effort ensuring our lessees comply with all state and federal regulations,” he added.
University Lands has two offices: a larger office in Midland, which is focused more on field operations, and a business operations office in Houston, where most of the oil and gas technical and financial professionals work. In the photo above, the Houston team is pictured with an old band wheel that once connected a pump jack to a steam engine. Discovered on the PUF Lands, the band wheel was placed in the Houston office when it opened in 2015 to provide a tangible connection to the land operations and the history of the organization.
Functioning almost as a public-private enterprise, University Lands is staffed much like the businesses they serve, with administrative, accounting, information technology/security and marketing employees plus engineers, geologists, mineral landmen, surface landmen and range conservationists.
Mark Houser became the first CEO of University Lands in 2015, bringing more than 25 years of leadership experience with oil and gas corporations to help transform the office into a more commercially-focused organization. Under his leadership, the team has built its technical and financial knowledge, incorporated the use of machine learning, improved lease negotiating strategies and added business lines to University Lands’ portfolio.
One long-time business line that may be surprising to some is the vineyard, which was planted as an experiment by University Lands staff in the 1970s. After seeing that grapes could indeed grow well in West Texas, they decided it was more advantageous to let a professional wine company take over operations. Today, the land is leased by Mesa Vineyards, currently the largest winery in Texas and maker of the top-selling Ste Genevieve wines.
This year, the University Lands team has a goal of generating $1 billion in revenue for the first time since 2014, when the price of oil was 40 percent higher than it is today. Additional revenue could come from water-related infrastructure projects, which would have the added benefit of encouraging water recycling. University Lands also is focused on leasing more land for renewable energy projects.
“We are committed to sustaining and conserving these lands, and we are equally committed to a cleaner future for Texas and the nation,” stated Houser. “That’s why we strategically work with industry to continually make advances in producing low-cost energy in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way. It helps that the oil and gas industry increasingly recognizes that good environmental performance is good for business, but we’re also always working to ensure our contractual provisions and processes promote environmental best practices.
“Generating more revenue for the PUF is really exciting for us in University Lands because we realize the benefits it provides to UT institutions and students,” he said. “Although our day-to-day may vary from most other departments, UT System’s mission is at the heart of our work and is important to each of us at University Lands.”
There has been a lot of talk about Office 365 (O365) and migrating Outlook to the O365 cloud. But what does it all mean? Most of us have been using the Microsoft programs (Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) for years. The difference with O365 is that it allows you to access these programs (apps) on the web.
System Administration staff can access the O365 sign-in page through UT4U. While most of the O365 apps function almost identically to those installed on your computer, users may find some differences depending on the program. Files stored on your computer will not be accessible through O365. You’ll need to move or save documents to the O365 “cloud” to access remotely.
The primary advantage to using O365 is that it allows access to the web-based versions from any computer or device using any web browser, as long as you have access to the internet. Unlike signing into your work computer using remote access, O365 apps can be accessed without a VPN, remote client software or special configuration file.
Another benefit of O365 is the ability to use a variety of programs/apps without additional charge. On the O365 main page there is a link to “explore all your apps” to see overviews of the different cloud-based services offered.
The Office of Technology Services (OTIS) is planning a series of information and training sessions this spring to provide more help with using O365 and some of the less familiar apps. Look for details in the coming weeks.
Two-factor authentication (2FA) has been used for years by UT System Administration employees through the “Duo Mobile” app which is used to verify identity when logging into certain applications such as PeopleSoft. Soon 2FA also will be required when logging into web-based UT System email.
According to the Office of Information Security, account compromises are on the rise, with cybercriminals stealing, guessing or hacking email passwords, which then provides access to all sorts of UT System resources and information. Since 2FA is separate and independent from the SNAC user name and password, it provides a second layer of security and protection.
The new process would impact only those who access UT System email through a web browser, whether on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Those using Outlook on their work computer will not be required to login.
The Office of Information Security has begun piloting the new process with plans to implement it across System Administration this spring. Details and instructions will be provided prior to the roll-out. In the meantime, general information about UT System’s use of 2FA is available online.
System Administration employees who have reached service milestones will be honored at this year’s Employee Service Awards on March 29. Chancellor McRaven will present awards to staff who have reached 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 years of service. All are invited to attend the ceremony, scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the 2nd floor multipurpose room.