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HOUSTON-A little more than a week after closing on a transaction that netted it 1.2 million square feet on 103 acres, Lone Star College System is beginning to move forward on plans for the property. The Houston-area college system will use the former Hewlett-Packard campus on the northwest side as a new satellite campus, a university center in partnership with other colleges and a facility for the system’s online component.

Lone Star College System’s chancellor Richard Carpenter tells GlobeSt.com that the first phase has a targeted completion of January 2009. One of the priorities involves relocating the college’s Willow Chase Center from its current address on Grant Road in Tomball, TX on the far northwest side to the campus. The amount of square footage the Willow Chase Center will take isn’t graven in stone yet, he adds, but estimates it could be around 100,000 square feet, possibly more. Also in the immediate plan is moving the online school’s staff from temporary facilities in The Woodlands, TX to permanent facilities.

Then there is creation of the University Center, which involves collaboration between the Lone Star College System, University of Houston, University of Houston Downtown, Prairieview A&M University, Texas Southern University and Sam Houston University. “All of these institutions are collaborating to produce a matrix of four-year degreed programs, all located at the new university center,” Carpenter says. “We think this university center should, in fairly short order, become a very large center in terms of student enrollment.”

The master plan also includes about 500,000 to 600,000 square feet dedicated to commercial real estate use. “We’re not blind to where the market is right now. We also believe that, over time, the economy will grow, and demand for the real estate isn’t going away,” Carpenter explains. He says for the buildings in question, it makes more sense for one or two large tenants to take on the space, as opposed to many smaller tenants.

Carpenter says phenomenal growth in the Lone Star College System launched a months-long search for viable alternatives to accommodate current and anticipated expansion. Options included buying raw land and building from scratch and the Hewlett-Packard campus, which had been on the market for more than a year. GlobeSt.com recently reported that the parcel had been under contract and would likely close in April or May.

“We looked at several properties on (State Highway) 249,” Carpenter comments. “I personally walked over about three parcels of land.” He says Lone Star College System was in competition with Austin, TX-based Capital Commercial Investments for the HP campus last fall but came in second during the bidding process due to timing factors. However, when Capital Commercial Investments wasn’t able to come up with funding for the acquisition, “they approached us and asked us to partner with them to buy some of the land,” Carpenter says. “We explored that option, and decided it wasn’t a good path for us.”

Now, with buildings and property firmly in hand, Carpenter says the move is on to get the master plan implemented. “There’s quite a few steps here, so this all won’t happen at the same time,” he remarks. “The scope of the project is huge, but it’s time to get to work on it.”

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