State Okays Plan for New Lee College Branch Campus with Barbers Hill ISD

By David Taylor
Managing editor

After almost nine years of planning, a unanimous vote on Jan. 25 by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board okays a Barbers Hill ISD and Lee College proposal to establish a branch campus in Mont Belvieu.

“This unanimous vote of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to allow our community to vote on a Barbers Hill branch college campus is the culmination of years of extensive dialogue and planning,” Barbers Hill Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole said. “The Barbers Hill branch campus will provide a long-term positive impact for students and community.”

With the state’s okay to proceed, the Barbers Hill ISD school board had to vote to call a branch campus election by Feb. 16. The board voted unanimously at their Feb. 2 board meeting to place the measure to establish a branch campus on the May 4 ballot.

The proposal will include the construction of a 60,000 square foot building by Barbers Hill ISD with a capacity of 1,000 students at the cost of $30 million. It also includes a maintenance tax election at a rate of five percent on each $100 valuation of all taxable property.

To earn consideration, a petition from the district’s voter registrar certifying the signatures of registered voters who live in the Barbers Hill district had to sign a petition requesting the measure be put on the ballot and 1,008 signed the required petition exceeding the five percent requirement of 990 signatures.

According to the district, the Barbers Hill ISD tax rate will not increase because of the college plan’s passage.

While the effort seeking to establish a college campus in Mont Belvieu began as early as 2015, it expanded in earnest with the establishment of a steering committee that included Chairwoman Sandra Duree, Barbers Hill deputy superintendent; Vice Chairman Benny May, Barbers Hill trustee; Secretary Macie Schubert, West Chambers County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO; George Barrera, Barbers Hill trustee; Eric Davis, Barbers Hill trustee; Jimmy Sylvia, Chambers County judge; Brian Winningham, Mont Belvieu city manager; Daryl Fontenot, Lee College regent; Gilbert Santana, Lee College regent; and Brad Widener, Lone Star NGL at Energy Transfer vice president of operations. Dr. Villanueva and Dr. Poole were non-voting members of the committee.

Their first meeting was on Oct. 12, 2022, and the last one on Nov. 30, 2022. In between, they were treated to tours of other college campuses, focus groups, surveys, consultations with architects and negotiations between the two entities.

According to the district, responses to online surveys and focus groups were overwhelmingly favorable and supportive of the branch campus.

Chambers County commissioners joined Mont Belvieu council members in passing a resolution in support of the college plan.

The steering committee also appointed three subcommittees — a programming subcommittee to develop courses, programs, degrees, and services to be offered at the branch campus; a finance subcommittee to develop a financial plan supporting the branch campus; and an architect subcommittee to develop plans for the facility that will house the branch campus.

Programs to be offered include offering AAS degrees in Respiratory Therapy and Sonography and a certificate in Pharmacy Technology. Vocational programs leading to employment in skilled and semi-skilled occupations include certificates in Sterile Processing Technology and Drone Operator. All freshman and sophomore state-mandated core curriculum would also be offered. Continuing adult education programs, high school equivalency programs, and English as a Second Language courses would also be on the list.

According to a district release, “The new campus would provide a complete array of student services to ensure the Barbers Hill community receives the same level of amenities found at the main Lee College campus in Baytown.”

District spokesperson David Bloom said, “Currently, there are 10 branch colleges in Texas and even fewer that are directly tied to a school district.”