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Bexar County Demolishes Former Jail To Clear Way For UTSA Downtown Campus Expansion Project

Demolition was underway on a former county and federal jail building to make space for an expansion of UTSA's downtown campus.

Workers in recent weeks have used a yellow crane to carefully rip away the northwestern section of the structure and its roof, chunk by chunk.

A mechanical claw at the end of the crane bit away at the building, sending wreckage tumbling down the side onto a large pile on the ground.

A hose attached to the crane's side sprayed water to tamp down the clouds of light brown-gray dust blooming from the wreckage and floating over the streets around Historic Market Square.

The project offered passersby essentially a cutaway view of the facility's multiple floors, including the jail cell doors, metal shelves, benches, sinks and thick concrete walls.

The work also presented observers the striking spectacle of twisted wreckage and plums of dust alongside new, gleaming buildings that house Texas Public Radio headquarters, San Antonio fire and police departments, Frost Bank and a new courthouse.

The eight-story jail facility once held 600 inmates, at times both men and women, between 1989 and 2019. It was leased to GEO Group Incorporated and housed inmates facing trial at the San Antonio federal courthouse on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service.

After January 2019, it was abandoned to make room for the UTSA expansion project, which calls for the downtown campus to grow on both sides of I-35. The campus will be linked by walkways and student parking under and along the freeways, as part of a lease agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation.

Demolition of the jail facility and the clearing of that site is key to that project. "Bexar County is demolishing the building as part of an understanding for UTSA to purchase the land as part of [the] expansion," UTSA explained in a statement.

The UTSA Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Careers Building, a part of the College of Business, will be built there. The National Security Collaboration Center and the UTSA School of Data Science will sit next door on the other side of San Pedro Creek.

“They will be building a data science and cyber security building -- an absolutely beautiful building," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff explained during a recent press conference. "They may start on that in December. We should finish this [jail demolition work] sometime in December. ..."

The expansion "will transform that part of downtown," Wolff said. "It'll add a lot of vitality and add to those apartments and be a great place to get an education."

He referred to a number of downtown buildings near the former jail that will be built or converted into living space for students who attend the expanded downtown campus, including the old Continental Hotel building in the 100 block of West Commerce.

Wolff recently toured the site with UTSA President Taylor Eighmy and other school and county officials. Eighmy explained how facilities would be constructed on three parcels of land, which include the site of the former jail.

“We want a lot of backpacks down here," he said. "Obviously we are very interested in the development of the Continental Hotel property by Weston Urban, but we do look forward very much to getting more of our students downtown, and they look forward to it too.”

In a statement, UTSA explained that it hoped the expanded campus, particularly of its business school, will "support upcoming entrepreneurs, while creating a career-engaged services network hub for students and prospective employers."

In January, Bexar County approved the $5.7 million deal with UTSA to purchase the jail site. The UT System Board of Regents approved the lease and purchase agreements in February.

UTSA expected to complete the buildings housing the School of Data Science and the National Security Collaboration Center in 2022 and the business school building in 2025.

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