DALLAS - Plans to transform fast-growing Williamson County, Tex., into a hub of medical research and training gained momentum yesterday as Texas Tech University agreed to join a new education center near Taylor.

Texas Tech and its Health Sciences Center will be academic partners with several other colleges at the East Williamson County Higher Education Center, which recently broke ground for its new campus.

Tech will share the campus with Texas A&M University's Central Texas campus, along with Temple College, a community college based in the Bell County town of Temple.

The higher education center was created under a bill authored by state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, in the 2007 Legislature. The center is designed as a so-called middle college that will allow students to gain college credits while still earning a high-school diploma.

At the Taylor center, Temple College will work with Texas Tech to develop a nursing program, according to officials developing the campus.

"Part of the goal for the center is to create quick and flexible responses to employer needs," said Chuck McCarter, executive director of the initiative. "An additional goal of the center is to create strategic partnerships with area school districts, the Texas Bioscience Institute, Temple College, Texas State Technical College, and various major universities."

About 20 miles to the west, the Austin suburb of Round Rock is developing a major medical campus that will host Texas State University and a Texas A&M medical school, as well as a branch of Austin Community College.

ACC recently issued $120 million of lease revenue bonds for construction of the Round Rock campus. Round Rock joined the district in May with approval of 64% of the voters after land had already been donated to the community college. The Round Rock Independent School District's entire tax base now overlaps the ACC's.

Construction of a key road for the Round Rock campus will hinge on voter approval of a $90 million bond proposal after Williamson County commissioners yesterday approved placing the proposal on the November ballot.

Earlier this month, commissioners approved creation of two road districts under the supervision of Waterstone Development Group that is planning the three college campuses and a town center on the 937-acre site in Round Rock.

Only future residents or developers who build within the road districts would be taxed to service the bond debt, according to the county.

If the bonds are approved, Waterstone would pay the up-front costs to expand FM 1460 and to build several other smaller roads within the districts.

The Texas Department of Transportation was originally expected to pay the $27 million to $32 million to expand the road, but the state told the county last year that it no longer had money for the project.

The Round Rock campus's first phase is scheduled to be completed in fall 2009. Texas State University-San Marcos and Austin Community College have plans to open campuses by 2010.

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