Texas Wesleyan law school to expand

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Texas Wesleyan University, which as recently as 2002 was involved in talks about selling its law school, is to announce a $6 million expansion today, solidifying its presence in downtown Fort Worth.

University President Harold Jeffcoat said Wesleyan has received gifts totaling $2.1 million from three philanthropic foundations, a prominent lawyer, and faculty and staff.

The renovation, set to begin by midsummer, will add 40,000 square feet to the 80,000-square-foot space the law school occupies in a three-story building at 1515 Commerce St.

Improvements include a 240-seat auditorium, four 100-seat classrooms, offices and a greatly expanded law library that will be a resource for the legal community and the public. Today's announcement coincides with the kickoff of a campaign by the university to raise $3 million. The law school expects to raise an additional $900,000 in donations.

Wesleyan and Texas Christian University discussed a sale in 2001. An offer in the $30 million range was rejected. Talks with the University of North Texas in Denton were held in 2002, but nothing developed.

Law school dean Fred Slabach said Friday that there are no plans to sell the law school.

Wesleyan took over the Dallas/Fort Worth School of Law in 1992. The Irving-based school was having trouble gaining accreditation because it had an inadequate library and campus.

Wesleyan moved the law school downtown. It won provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association in 1994 and full accreditation in 1999.

It is the only law school in Tarrant County and has 700 full- and part-time students.

Law school spokesman John Veilleux said applications to the law school are up 58 percent this year. He said the school already has received more than 2,000 applications for the fall term. Only about 250 will be accepted.

More than 75 percent of the students are from North Texas, Veilleux said. Full-time tuition next year will rise by 5.7 percent to $9,480 per semester, but no major increases are expected to help pay for the expansion.

Slabach said the plan is to hold enrollment steady while improving the facilities and academics. He said the expansion will allow some changes in curriculum and, in time, additions to the faculty.

"Our projections are that this project will accommodate the law school until at least 2020," he said.

Slabach said the law school has two crucial problems.

"The first is the library," he said. "We have a very strong collection at over 200,000 volumes, which compares favorably to many law schools around the country. But we are out of shelf space. Much of the expansion is being driven by the law library."

Slabach said the library's space is the smallest of all ABA-accredited schools.

A three-year study also found a need for more classroom and student space.

"We only have two classrooms that will hold 100 students," Slabach said. "This is inadequate for the current student population. Scheduling issues have become more common over the last several years as the student population has grown to full capacity."

Susan Phillips, director of the law library, said the library must physically expand to ensure the next level of success in three areas.

The law library needs to accommodate the growth of the collection, provide additional study space and offer enhanced technology -- all to reinforce services to patrons, she said.

The renovation is expected to take 12 months, beginning with the third floor this summer. The third floor had been leased to the Internal Revenue Service. The library expansion is set to begin in March and be completed next summer.

Gifts to the university include $1 million from lawyer Dee J. Kelly and his wife; $500,000 from the Amon G. Carter Foundation; and $250,000 each from the Burnett Foundation and the Sid W. Richardson Foundation.