Regents approve Rivers Center master plan

Date of release: 02/04/00

SAN MARCOS, TEXAS — The proposed Texas Rivers Center at San Marcos Springs received a strong boost Friday from the Texas State University System Board of Regents.

Meeting on the campus of Southwest Texas State University, the regents approved a proposed master plan for the center and also authorized SWT to enter into a contract with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) for the center’s maintenance and operation.

The Texas Rivers Center at San Marcos Springs will be located at SWT’s Aquarena Center. Its mission is to educate the public about aquatic ecology, serve as a research center and to protect and restore the ecology, archaeology and history of the Aquarena property.

According to the master plan, the center will be developed in three phases. Phase I will renovate the Aquarena Springs Inn and begin restoration of the peninsula at Aquarena.

The renovated inn will provide office space for all SWT functions and programs now housed at Aquarena Center, including the Office of Continuing Education. Additional office space will be established for the Center for Freshwater Policy and Research and the Center for Nature and Heritage Tourism. TPWD functions housed in the renovated inn will include the Rivers Study Program and the Aquatic Education Program. The building will also house administrative offices, classrooms, interpretive exhibits and a gift shop.

Existing buildings, roads and parking lots on the Aquarena peninsula will be removed and about six acres of the site will become Festival Meadows. The area will receive extensive revegetation and ecological restoration and will serve as space for outdoor events. More than 100,000 square feet of impervious cover will be removed.

Construction on Phase I could begin in August.

Regents also authorized SWT to proceed to develop a formal agreement between SWT and TPWD regarding the construction and maintenance of the facility. Under terms of the agreement, SWT will lease property to TPWD and the two agencies will cooperate in designing the center’s facilities. These, undertaken in subsequent construction phases, will include an interpretive center with exhibits and aquaria, a multi-media theater, office and conference space, working laboratories with observation areas and a gift shop and snack bar area. SWT will provide day-to-day maintenance of the center.

The agreement will include a conservation easement between SWT and TPWD for the site of the Texas Rivers Center at San Marcos Springs. In exchange for funding for the center, TPWD requested the easement to protect and preserve the ecosystem in and around Spring Lake.

The easement requires TPWD approval of any proposed modifications on the peninsula, the lake or the land immediately surrounding the lake. It also requires SWT to ensure that no activity or construction diminishes the current water quality of Spring Lake.

The regents also approved a contract with T-Corp in the amount of $405,887 for construction work on the Wetlands Project at Aquarena Center. The project is funded from a $500,000 grant from the Meadows Foundation and a legislative appropriation for the Texas Rivers Center at San Marcos Springs.

The Wetlands Project will allow the university to develop an interpretive center and a boardwalk and trail system describing the wetlands that exist at Aquarena Center and educating the public on the importance of natural wetlands. The project also involves an effort to reintroduce native species of plants and animals to the Aquarena property.

The board hired the engineering firm of Turner, Collie and Braden of Houston to prepare plans and specifications for emergency repairs to Spring Lake Dam. Total cost of the project is not to exceed $214,268, and it will be funded by federal disaster relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a state legislative appropriation for flood damage repair and university funding. FEMA will pay 75 percent of the repair cost.

Spring Lake Dam was damaged during the flood of October 1998. In May 1999, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission ordered the university to close the entire dam area to the public until the dam could be repaired.

SWT officials say they hope the repairs will be complete before the summer of 2001.