When students begin studying this spring at Texas A&M University’s new Soltis Center for Research and Education in Costa Rica, their experience will take place on a foundation laid years earlier by students and faculty from the College of Architecture.
The facility, which includes classrooms, dormitories and other facilities, is located on a 40-acre site adjacent to the Monteverde Cloud Forest about a two-hour drive from the Central American country’s capital, San José.
In 2005, Bill Soltis, a 1955 mechanical engineering graduate from Texas A&M, approached his alma mater about donating the land and building new facilities to provide an international experience for students and to protect the area’s unique ecological setting while increasing awareness for preservation efforts. He has spent most of his life in the construction business, including construction of facilities in Costa Rica.
Soltis built the new center for Texas A&M at his own expense, based on student designs created in spring 2006 by a multidisciplinary studio at the College of Architecture, which was led by professors Guillermo Vasquez de Velasco, James Smith, Mardelle Shepley, Chris Ellis and Charlie Culp.
The studio was composed of 62 students from architecture, landscape architecture and construction science, who produced a site analysis and 12 different design concepts, the best of which significantly influenced center buildings’ final appearance.
In July of that same year, Velasco, now dean of the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University, and Ellis, now an associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Michigan, traveled to Costa Rica with a group of students to finish surveying the area and consult with students at the University of Costa Rica.
The College of Architecture’s role continued as the center was constructed with oversight from Elton Abbott, associate professor of practice and assistant dean for special projects at the college.
With all aspects of Soltis’ proposal for the center met, last December the Board of Regents of the Texas A&M University System formally authorized the university to enter into a contract with the entity jointly created for its operation, the Casa Verde Research Center Sociedad Anonima to support academic and research programs.
Now almost completed and ready for occupancy, the center facilities include one large academic building and eight dormitories capable of accommodating up to 60 students and faculty. In addition to the 40-acre site, the university has a long-term lease on 250 adjacent acres in the rain forest.
“We are most grateful to Mr. Soltis and his family for making this facility available to our students and faculty for a multitude of beneficial uses in both teaching and research initiatives,” stated Texas A&M President Elsa Murano, “and we share his commitment to maintaining and enhancing the environment in this place of special ecological importance.”
Initial student users of the Costa Rica Center will be from the College of Education and Human Development, the College of Geosciences and Texas A&M’s Dwight Look College of Engineering. Murano noted that other academic units of the university are expected subsequently to take advantage of its unique ecological setting and ideal location for a variety of educational endeavors including the Memorial Student Center FISH organization for freshmen, and the Engineers with Borders.
Additionally, the center is envisioned as serving as a base for programs benefiting residents of the area around the rain forest — teaching English to local school children and developing water management programs, for example. Texas A&M faculty also identified a number of potential research programs in conservation, sustainable design, hydrology, mapping of rain forest and others.