EDINBURG – Medical, academic and community leaders from throughout South Texas gathered Tuesday morning for a groundbreaking ceremony for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Medical Academic Building, the first new construction for the UTRGV School of Medicine.
As part of the ceremony that highlighted the beginning phase of the long-sought Valley medical school, UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., and leaders from Hidalgo County and the cities of Edinburg, McAllen, Mission and Pharr signed a Memorandum of Understanding, a reflection of support for the medical school by the local governments.
Under the agreement, the cities and county agree to provide $50 million over the next 10 years to support medical training operations in Hidalgo County.
Noting the event’s historic nature, Cigarroa, who played a critical role in the effort to secure legislative approval and funding for the medical school and UTRGV, said that “until this moment, we have been preparing for the journey. And now, today’s groundbreaking is a tangible stepping stone in the journey to bring a medical school to this region of Texas. This has been an amazing journey and one we could not have undertaken without many outstanding leaders who have embraced this plan and contributed greatly to its early success.”
In thanking many for their effort, Cigarroa singled out UT System Board of Regents Vice Chairman Gene Powell, a Weslaco native, who as chairman, pushed for the creation of the university and medical school.
“This new university and medical school will forever transform the lives of our children and grandchildren”
“We could not have done this without him…. The people of the Rio Grande Valley have a devoted friend and native son who has returned home with gifts greater than gold,” Cigarroa said. “He has helped open the doors of higher education and medical training that will produce doctors, nurses, health professionals and well educated citizens for generations to come.”
Powell said the medical school will bring world-class medical education and training, scientific research, and state-of-the-art healthcare to the region.
“This new university and medical school will forever transform the lives of our children and grandchildren – and fulfill the dreams of those who have come before us and wanted the best for this magnificent part of Texas,” Powell said.
Other speakers included Texas State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen, a principal architect of the legislation to create the new university; Guy Bailey, founding president of UT Rio Grande Valley; Francisco Fernandez, M.D., founding dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine; William Henrich, president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio; Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia; Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia; and Ken Shine, M.D., special advisor to the chancellor at UT System.
Occupying more than 88,000 square feet, the new building will be a teaching facility that promotes faculty and student interaction at the beginning stages of medical school. The building will include an auditorium, digital library, clinical skills center, pre-clinical laboratories and an anatomy teaching facility. Multiple small classrooms, seminar rooms and other features will offer opportunities for small group problem solving and inter-professional educational experiences.
The region-wide medical school will interact with and complement facilities in Harlingen and Brownsville, including the existing Regional Academic Health Center, and will make extensive use of online and distance learning and will support continuing education in the region.
Construction began in July and is expected to be complete by the time the first medical school classes begin in the fall of 2016.
About The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley  was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 in a historic move that will combine the resources and assets of UT Brownsville and UT Pan American and, for the first time, make it possible for residents of the Rio Grande Valley to benefit from the Permanent University Fund. The institution will also be home to a School of Medicine and will transform Texas and the nation by becoming a leader in student success, teaching, research and healthcare. UTRGV will enroll its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine will open in 2016.
About The University of Texas System
Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System  is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2013 enrollment of more than 213,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $14.6 billion (FY 2014) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With about 90,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.