AUSTIN, Texas–President Larry R. Faulkner announced today (Oct. 28) that he will recommend to The University of Texas System Board of Regents that the observation deck of the Tower at UT Austin be reopened next year for public tours. The board of regents will hold its next regular meeting in Houston on Nov. 11-12.
Faulkner said he hopes the work necessary to prepare the Tower of the Main Building for public access to the observation deck can be completed in time for the 1999 spring Commencement.
“The Tower is the most important symbol of academic aspiration and achievement in Texas. It also is the strongest image uniting members of the University community. In the words of its designer, architect Paul Cret, the Tower is ‘the heart of the University . . .the image carried in our memory when we think of the place.’ It is my opinion that we should actively use this icon of higher education in positive ways,” Faulkner said.
He said he will recommend that the Tower observation deck be reopened to “invite the people of Texas to view their campus and to renew their sense of ownership in the state’s leading academic enterprise, The University of Texas at Austin.” The observation deck is located on a level just above the 27th floor of the Tower, which was completed in 1937.
Faulkner said that in response to a request last April from a group of student leaders on campus, he appointed a special committee to consider the possibility of reopening the observation deck. The committee included representatives from the offices of business affairs, campus planning and facilities management, physical plant, student affairs and the University Police Department. Upon consideration of the issues of safety, access for visitors with disabilities, management, required renovations and associated costs, the group produced a plan for reopening of the Tower. Faulkner said he also received input from other students as well as faculty, staff and alumni.
The annual cost for opening the observation deck is estimated to be about $86,000 and capital costs associated with the reopening are estimated at $450,000 to $500,000. It will be necessary to charge an admission fee to support the costs associated with tour operations. The fee is anticipated to be about $5 or $6 for the general public and a reduced cost for UT Austin students.
The major capital items are installation of a physical safety barrier, elevator modifications, refurbishment of various public areas and modifications providing wheelchair access to the observation deck. A nationally known craftsman in ironwork and construction will be engaged to design, construct and install the barrier so it will be consistent with the historical context of the Main Building.
The observation deck became a focal point for the nation on Aug. 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman used the high vantage point to shoot and kill 14 people and wound 32 others. In subsequent years, several suicides by people who jumped from the observation deck led to its being permanently closed in 1975. In recent years, there have been numerous requests from University constituents, including students and alumni, that the observation deck be reopened.
Faulkner said the Tower is a symbol of great achievement and to keep it closed to the public would leave the people of Texas with nothing but the history of unfortunate experiences associated with the Tower.
“Reopening the Tower will give us all an opportunity to create positive experiences for new generations,” Faulkner said.
UT Austin Student Government President Annie Holand said she is “elated that President Faulkner has taken this student-driven proposal and worked with the students to ensure that the Tower observation deck is re-opened.
“In reopening the observation deck, we will offer not only a beautiful view to the state of Texas, but also a real connection to The University of Texas at Austin,” said Holand.
Faulkner said he anticipates extraordinary interest in tours when the observation deck is first opened and the University will work with the student government to allocate certain portions of the scheduled operation for student tours and possibly establish a priority for groups such as graduating seniors.
The University plans to offer tours on weekends with each tour involving about 20 minutes of viewing time and 10 minutes to get from the ground to the observation deck and back down again. Each tour will be limited to 12 people and tickets will be available at an on campus location.
Visitors will be greeted at a check-in point on the ground floor and will be escorted to the observation deck. They will be allowed to take only small items, such as cameras and binoculars up to the observation deck. In addition, UT Austin police officers will be stationed on the observation deck during the tours.