UTRGV to turn shuttered Brownsville elementary into School of Art and Design

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The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is acquiring Longoria Elementary School and will transform it into the School of Art and Design.

Longoria Elementary sits on 4.24 acres at 2400 E. Van Buren St., which is about two blocks from the Life Health Sciences Building on the UTRGV Brownsville Campus. Brownsville ISD closed the school in 2019 due to declining enrollment.

The acquisition will allow UTRGV to move the School of Art and Design out of its current location in Rusteberg Hall, which is leased from Texas Southmost College.

UTRGV-Brownsville art students have long criticized Rusteberg as inadequate to their needs. They raised those concerns a year ago when they met with university officials and cited the November 2021 Athletics Fee Referendum that heralded UTRGV’s entry into NCAA Division I athletics.

With all the money being spent on athletics art students in Brownsville deserve a place they can call their own, they said.

The meeting resulted in consensus that the ultimate long term solution would be a new, purpose-built art building. Acquisition and renovation of the Longoria campus represents a big step in that direction.

“We extend our heartfelt thanks to Brownsville ISD for their collaboration and assistance in facilitating this acquisition,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey said in a news release. “We believe this is a fantastic opportunity for our students. Not only is it conveniently located near campus, but it also means our students can transition into great space sooner rather than later.”

The University of Texas System Board of Regents authorized the purchase in February. UTRGV and BISD have agreed to terms and are under contract, the release stated.

Once the property closes, UTRGV plans to invest $33.8 million in renovations, pending additional approval from the regents. The enhancements will be designed with input from students and faculty, ensuring the new facilities meet the unique needs and creative aspirations of the School of Art and Design community.

The announcement comes after UTRGV announced earlier this year that it had purchased the old Majestic Theater and will invest $46 million renovating it to be the new UTRGV Brownsville Performing Arts Center.

Longoria Elementary sits on 4.24 acres, with existing buildings totaling 45,852 square feet. The acquisition will help UTRGV reduce the amount of space it leases for academic programming in Brownsville. (Courtesy | Preliminary artist rendering)

The project not only preserves a historic landmark but also adds an important cultural center downtown.

The Board of Regents approved the purchase last fall. To date, UTRGV is investing a total of $85 million in capital improvements and acquisitions to expand its facilities within the city of Brownsville, the release stated.

Jeffrey Ward, dean of the College of Fine Arts, said the purchase of the Longoria campus is an important step in the future of the School of Art and Design.

“We are thankful for the UT System Board of Regents, Brownsville ISD and everyone at UTRGV who was involved in getting us to this point,” Ward said. “With this new property and the purchase of the Majestic Theater downtown, the College of Fine Arts in Brownsville is in a great position to thrive for years to come.”

The Majestic Theater project will fulfill part of UTRGV’s “core academic mission” in Brownsville, Bailey said when it was announced, noting that UTRGV currently leases performance space in the TSC Performing Arts Center on campus but that it is inadequate to the university’s needs.

The Majestic Theater is a local historical site, built in 1948 as part of Karl St. John Hoblitzelle’s movie theater chain, which had vaudeville beginnings. Hoblitzelle’s chain had already seen the opening of Majestic Theaters in Dallas and San Antonio by the time it first opened its doors in Brownsville.

Notably it is not on the National Historic Register, which allows flexibility in developing the site.