BASTROP, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The Cockrell Center has been in Bastrop County for more than 40 years but now officials with MD Anderson tell FOX 7 the plan is to close down the cancer research facility in two years.
Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape is trying to prevent that from happening. "Somebody needs to come and explain to the citizens of Bastrop County why it has to be moved,” said Judge Pape.
To help get that answer, back in May, Judge Pape sent a letter to Governor Greg Abbott and other state leaders. Thursday he was still waiting for an answer. "What I’m looking for, Rudy is an explanation of the compelling reason why they need to close this fabulous facility here in Bastrop County, and move the scientist to Houston,” said Judge Pape.
MD Anderson is building a new complex in Houston's medical district. It's massive. Will need people to work there. And the center in Bastrop County needs upgrades. "I can’t imagine it’s the money, you're not saving any money to move this program to Houston. So what is the compelling reason, will the science be better in Houston,” said Judge Pape.
About a 175 people work at the center which is located along a ridge in Buescher State Park. It's also just a few miles away from the town of Smithville, where Thursday, some residents were still learning they could be losing some neighbors.
Leonardo Zranillo said his wife has a friend who works at the center.
"I don’t think she will go. She says she wants to retire,” said Zranillo.
Relocation assistance will be provided to those who are able to get positions in Houston.
The judge told FOX 7 this isn't really about money considering the center doesn’t add to the county tax rolls. For him this is about county pride and discovery. The judge believes research is best done in remote rural areas and not under big city lights. MD Anderson is part of the university of Texas.
In a statement sent to FOX 7, officials at MD Anderson stated in part: "This move will allow MD Anderson to fully leverage our team science model." The statement went on to acknowledge the time the health care group has spent in Bastrop County. "In science, we are always mindful of history. Our Science Park Campus will be remembered as an important chapter in MD Anderson's long and impressive story."
For Judge Pape, the what's next in that story is what worries him. "If the same person, who thinks it’s a smart idea to move this program to Houston, decided to do nothing with that facility and let it rot, may be that wouldn't surprise me," said Judge Pape.
A university spokesperson did not say if the property will be sold.
Or if the new medical school in Austin will use it. There is also the possibility the site could be given to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
MD Anderson has a second cancer research facility in Bastrop County. Its located near Elgin and Camp Swift on Hwy 95. That’s the facility where research is done on chimps and large animals. It is not involved in the move.