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UT Tyler on track to open Patriot Plaza outdoor area for fall, plans changes to commencement next year

When students return to campus for the fall semester at the University of Texas at Tyler, they’ll see the first portions of the college’s campus master plan coming to fruition.

Crews are working to have the college’s new Patriot Plaza open by the time students begin arriving on campus later this month. The plaza is situated in what was once the University Center visitor parking lot.

Gone are the parking spaces, replaced by a 500-seat amphitheater and green space, stretching from the Herrington Patriot Center to the college’s bell tower.

UT Tyler President Dr. Michael Tidwell said the creation of the plaza is intended to offer students the full college experience, as well as to create a gathering space for the UT Tyler community and the community at large.

Tidwell said that while the campus has beautiful green spaces, it lacks an area reminiscent of the “quad” atmosphere students envision, where hundreds of people can gather for recreation, concerts and more.

While the idea has received pushback from some students, Tidwell is confident that once they see the benefits offered by the plaza, they’ll come to appreciate the redesign.

“UT Tyler is a growing and thriving institution. We realize construction on campus is not always pleasant,” Tidwell said. “I think when the community gets to see the benefits, they’ll (love it.)”

The college has big plans for the plaza, ranging from student activities to concerts through a Cowan Center “After Dark” series and eventually a single commencement ceremony.

When a new commencement portion of the college’s website went live in July, it was met with dissatisfaction from students worried that the area could not accommodate all of their families, that parking would be inadequate and the weather too unpredictable for a memorable graduation day.

Tidwell said commencement will continue in Cowan this fall, but likely move to the plaza next May. Part of the reason for the move is that the college’s record enrollment has led to four separate commencement ceremonies each semester, and some have already grown too large for the Cowan Center’s 2,000 seats. Tidwell wants families to be present, not just watching a livestream from a separate room if they are unable to get tickets.

The college believes Patriot Plaza is that space. The “bowl,” as the circular area between the amphitheater seating and the UC is called, can accommodate up to 2,000 graduates. In addition to the 500 seats built into the green space, the college said there is enough room to bring inseating to easily accommodate up to 8,000 attendees.

With the way the plaza is set up, that would mean the audience is seated in the amphitheater and to the northwest, facing the green space between the UC and the HPC buildings.

“At Cowan that wasn’t the case. Folks had to go to overflow rooms,” Tidwell said. “In this space you have that ability (to be there) and have a clear view of your student graduating.”

The college is working on inclement weather plans, and will likely adjust timing for heat or rain with the option to move back to indoor ceremonies if weather is expected to be especially bad.

The remaining parking around the plaza will be transitioned into handicap spaces, and Tidwell said that all points on the campus, once the redesign is complete, will be within a 15-minute walking radius of the plaza.

Tidwell said while he understands frustration with parking, the campus has more spots than it did when he came on board in 2017, with the addition of a parking garage near the Soules College of Business. At that time the college had 3,877 parking spots; after completion of Patriot Plaza it will have 4,242.

In the college’s master plan, the lots between the alumni house and Cowan Center eventually will become a parking garage as well.

UT Tyler has traditionally been a commuter campus, but over the past decade as the college has grown two nearby apartment complexes have been purchased for student housing and there are plans to build more dorms as part of the campus master plan.

Tidwell said the goal is to continue to serve the commuter population, while creating an atmosphere that enables more students to live on campus and thrive. He said the university’s data shows that when students are on campus, they’re more likely to graduate on time and to perform better academically.

In addition to the plaza, the college has big plans for expansion. With the move to NCAA Division II, there are plans to expand athletics facilities. Funding is still being sought for a new College of Nursing Facility and various improvements around campus are in the works.

Some of those improvements include the phasing in of sidewalks down Old Omen Road, a lighted walking path from the campus-owned apartment complexes and some remodeling in the former College of Business facility.


National
AP
Texas governor: 20 dead in El Paso shopping-complex shooting

EL PASO — Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, Gov. Greg Abbott said.

Among the possibilities being investigated is whether it was a hate crime, the city’s police chief said. Two law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity identified the suspect taken into custody as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius. El Paso police haven’t released his name, but confirmed the gunman is from Allen, a suburb of Dallas.

Police said another 26 people were injured and most were being treated at hospitals. Most of the victims were believed to have been shot at a Walmart near the Cielo Vista Mall, they said, adding that the store was packed with as many as 3,000 people during the busy back-to-school shopping season.

“The scene was a horrific one,” said El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen, who described many of those hurt as having life-threatening injuries. He also said police found a post online that may have been written by the suspect — one reason authorities are looking at whether it was a hate crime.

El Paso, which has about 680,000 residents, is in West Texas and sits across the border from Juarez, Mexico.

Residents were quick to volunteer to give blood to the injured after the shooting, and police and military members were helping people look for missing loved ones.

“It’s chaos right now,” said Austin Johnson, an Army medic at nearby Fort Bliss, who volunteered to help at the shopping center and later at a school serving as a reunification center.

Adriana Quezada, 39, said she was in the women’s clothing section of Walmart with her two children when she “heard shots.”

“But I thought they were hits, like roof construction,” she said.

Her 19-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son threw themselves to the ground, then ran out of the store through an emergency exit. They were not hurt, Quezada said.

She said she saw four men, dressed in black, moving together firing guns indiscriminately. Police later said they believed the suspect was the “sole shooter” but were continuing to investigate reports that others were involved.

El Paso police Sgt. Robert Gomez said the suspect, who used a rifle, was arrested without incident.

The shooting came less than a week after a gunman opened fire on a California food festival. Santino William Legan, 19, killed three people and injured 13 others last Sunday at the popular Gilroy Garlic Festival, and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Ryan Mielke, a spokesman for University Medical Center of El Paso, said 13 people were brought to the hospital with injuries after the Texas shooting, including one who died. Two of the injured were children who were being transferred to El Paso Children’s Hospital, he said. He wouldn’t provide additional details on the victims.

Eleven other victims were being treated at Del Sol Medical Center, hospital spokesman Victor Guerrero said. Those victims’ ages ranged from 35 to 82, he said.

Abbott, who confirmed the number of victims at a news conference, called the shooting “a heinous and senseless act of violence” and said the state had deployed a number of law enforcement officers to the city. President Donald Trump tweeted: “Reports are very bad, many killed.”

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said three Mexicans were killed in the shooting in the border city.

He tweeted Saturday that he sends “condolences to the families of the victims, both American and Mexican.”

Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said six Mexicans were wounded in the shooting.

He identified three as 45-year-old Mario de Alba Montes, 44-year-old Olivia Mariscal Rodríguez and 10-year-old Erika de Alba Mariscal. Ebrard says the man and woman are from Chihuahua and all three are being treated at an El Paso hospital.

Police in Allen blocked streets Saturday night near a home associated with the shooting suspect.

More than a dozen members of law enforcement could be seen outside the residence, including agents from the FBI, Texas Department of Public Safety and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

A woman answered the door at the gray stone house after a group of officers knocked. They appeared to speak with her briefly and then she closed the door. A short time later, the door reopened and officers entered.

Allen, 20 miles north of Dallas, is an affluent community of about 100,000.

Alice Baland, who lives four houses down, said a retired couple lives at the home associated with the suspect. She described them as sweet people who regularly attend church.

Presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke appeared a bit shaken as he appeared at a candidate forum Saturday in Las Vegas shortly after news of the shooting in his hometown was reported. The Democrat said the shooting shatters “any illusion that we have that progress is inevitable” on tackling gun violence.

He said he heard early reports that the shooter might have had a military-style weapon, saying we need to “keep that (expletive) on the battlefield. Do not bring it into our communities.”

“We have to find some reason for optimism and hope or else we consign ourselves to a future where nearly 40,000 people a year will lose their lives to gun violence and I cannot accept that,” O’Rourke said.

El Paso has become a focal point of the immigration debate, drawing Trump in February to argue that walling off the southern border would make the U.S. safer, while city residents and O’Rourke led thousands on a protest march past the barrier of barbed-wire-topped fencing and towering metal slats.

O’Rourke stressed that border walls haven’t made his hometown safer. The city’s murder rate was less than half the national average in 2005, the year before the start of its border fence. Before the wall project started, El Paso had been rated one of the three safest major U.S. cities going back to 1997.

Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project,said the El Paso shooting suspect wasn’t on her group’s radar screen prior to the shooting.

“We had nothing in our files on him,” Beirich wrote in an email.

The shooting is the 21st mass killing in the United States in 2019, and the fifth public mass shooting. Before Saturday, 96 people had died in mass killings in 2019 — 26 of them in public mass shootings.

The AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database tracks all U.S. homicides since 2006 involving four or more people killed, not including the offender, over a short period of time regardless of weapon, location, victim-offender relationship or motive. The database shows that the median age of a public mass shooter is 28.

who commits a mass shooting of their family.

Since 2006, 11 mass shootings — not including Saturday’s — have been committed by men who are 21 or younger.