The Texas A&M-Kingsville Citrus Center at Weslaco will host a groundbreaking ceremony for new facilities at 5 p.m. June 23 at 312 N. International Blvd. in Weslaco.
The new facility will replace the center’s aged facilities, World War II-era military barracks that have been remodeled over the years, according to Dr. John da Graca, the center’s director.
Construction on the state-of-the-art facility will begin next month and should be completed next summer, he said.
“The first floor will have meeting rooms, classrooms, diagnostics laboratories and administration offices,” da Graca said. “The second floor will house research laboratories, student cubicles and faculty offices.”
A large, open laboratory, da Graca said, will include space for specialized equipment and containment labs for tissue cultures, a cold room and mass spectroscopy equipment.
The Citrus Center’s origins date back to 1948 when it was established by what was then Texas A&I College in Kingsville. The center was originally called the Citrus and Vegetable Training Center, although vegetables were never an integral part of the program, da Graca said.
“It was housed in a series of retired army barracks from the old Harlingen air base that were moved to our current location on FM 1015,” da Graca said. “To this day we continue to use those old buildings. Although they’ve been remodeled many times over the years, maintenance on these old structures has been tedious and expensive.”
During a special session of the state legislature in 2006, legislators approved funding for new facilities from state tuition revenue bonds.
Dignitaries expected at the groundbreaking include Dr. Mike McKinney, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, Dr. Steven Tallant, president of Texas A&M-Kingsville, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples, State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez of Weslaco and state Senator Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.
“Other Valley legislators have been invited,” da Graca said, “but have not yet confirmed their availability. Of course, the Texas citrus community will be well represented, as well as the other local, state and federal agricultural research centers."
The center’s scientists, assistants and students currently conduct research in a variety of disciplines, including irrigation, new varieties, entomology, plant pathology, molecular biology, soil science and plant nutrition.
The center also devotes considerable resources to train undergraduate and graduate students, da Graca said.