In the dark days of World War II, hundreds of patriotic young American men learned to fly at the Bryan Army Air Base. The base closed at the end of the war and, except for a brief revival in the early 1950s, remained virtually unused until 1962, when it was handed over to what soon would become Texas A&M University.
Over the years, A&M used the Riverside Campus, as it was named, mainly for training by the Texas Engineering Extension Service, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station and the Texas Transportation Institute. Most of the campus remained underutilized, though1. That’s about to change in a big way.
Earlier this month, Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp unveiled a massive and visionary plan to upgrade and enhance the site, which now will be called the RELLIS Campus — an acronym of Texas A&M’s core values of respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity and selfless service.
The revitalized and expanded campus will continue to maintain its research component but now in cooperation with other universities and the private sector.
In addition, qualified students who did not get into A&M will be able to earn their degree from other universities in the A&M System while staying in the Bryan-College area. Some of them, also, might be able to transfer to the main campus. Some $38 million will be spent building an education center with classrooms and offices. That facility initially will serve hundreds of students, but eventually could educate up to 10,000 students.
Initially the focus of the RELLIS Campus will be the development of emerging infrastructure and transportation technologies, including driverless cars and smart power grids. At the same time, the campus will be open to other emerging technologies.
This fall, 32 decaying buildings from the campus’ days as an air base will be removed and the site’s outdated infrastructure will be rebuilt.
Buildings already planned for the RELLIS Campus include:
- The already announced $73 million Center for Infrastructure Renewal — authorized by the Texas Legislature — that will develop new methods and better materials for the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and train the private sector in how to apply new techniques and materials. The cost will include state funding and donor contributions. Completion is expected by the end of 2017.
- A $12 million Advanced Research in Transportation Technology Building for research, design and testing in the growing field of automated and connected vehicles.
- A $12 million Cyber-Physical Research and Development Center that will be dedicated to robotics, autonomous and connected vehicle technologies, and associated cyber-security facets.
- A $9 million centralized office and research facility that will be constructed for TEES.
- A $6 million Safety Process Center that will test and learn the safest methods to operate in large chemical operations.
- A $6 million Industrial Distribution Center that will investigate the best way to manufacture and distribute products.
- A $7 million training facility for the Texas Engineering Extension Service, primarily for law enforcement.
This isn’t the first time big plans have been announced for the Riverside Campus. More than a quarter century ago a detailed plan for developing the site was announced, but funding never materialized and the plans soon were forgotten.
The new plan has a much better chance of happening. Millions of dollars already have been pledged for demolition and construction. But the real reason it will be built is the visionary leadership of Chancellor Sharp. Pretty much when he sets his mind on doing something, it gets done. He is a hard man to say no to. Joining him in this vision is Texas A&M University President Michael Young, who has been working overtime to make sure students at the education center on the new campus will be able to interact with the main campus, as well as numbers A&M officials.
Numerous business are excited about the new campus and many of them are likely to locate in Bryan and College Station to interface with RELLIS and use its facilities and researchers to help develop their cutting-edge products. Talks already are underway with Kubota Tractors.
Texas A&M Vice Chancellor and Dean of Engineering Katherine Banks said, “With this facility and this campus, we will be right in the middle of action.”
The new RELLIS Campus will be a boon for the local community, the businesses who choose to locate here and the thousands of students will be proud to graduate as an Aggie.