Leader of UTEP’s ‘Campus Transformation’ Retires
Last Updated on April 28, 2022 at 12:00 AM
Originally published April 28, 2022
By Daniel Perez
UTEP Marketing and Communications
As a youngster, native El Pasoan Greg McNicol built small structures and desert forts on the site where Lone Star Golf Course now sits using abandoned cardboard and discarded building materials. As he matured, he marveled at the design and construction of homes and their use of space.
As with a structure, where one phase leads to another toward completion, McNicol’s life followed a trajectory of personal and professional growth that led to his dream job as The University of Texas at El Paso’s associate vice president for business affairs - facilities management in 2001.
The man who was a key player in UTEP’s physical campus transformation, and who has had a hand in most major campus construction since the mid-1980s to include the addition of 2 million square feet of research, office, classroom and recreation space, retired April 29, 2022. He said that he stayed at UTEP because he found fun in every challenge.
“I’ve enjoyed my time at UTEP working with this team,” he said next to the Lhakhang on the western edge of Centennial Plaza in the heart of campus. “It’s been a great work environment. It’s just time to do something different.”
McNicol is a third-generation El Pasoan whose family was among the first to live in the Eastridge neighborhood known for its festive Christmas light displays. When not involved in Eastwood High School marching band activities, he worked at his family’s wholesale electronics store in the Five Points area, or served as a youth baseball coach. Those experiences taught him about responsibility, leadership and conflict resolution.
He enrolled at Texas Tech University, his parents’ alma mater, to study architecture. While living in Lubbock, a property owner hired him to manage several apartment complexes, where he learned about heating and cooling systems and general maintenance. After his graduation from Texas Tech, he interviewed for several jobs and landed an architectural drafter position with The University of Texas System. A few years later, his employer promoted him to project manager and he oversaw projects at campuses throughout the system. One of his first UTEP projects involved the University Library, which opened in 1984.
When UTEP hired McNicol in 2001, then-President Diana Natalicio wanted someone who could enhance the campus’ research capabilities, McNicol said. One of his first duties was to help prepare a campus master plan, which included an early concept of Centennial Plaza and a campus transformation that would provide greenspace, alleviate inner-campus vehicle congestion and promote pedestrian traffic. The plan, which morphed through the years, included the Bioscience Research Building, the Health Sciences and Nursing Building, the Chemistry and Computer Science Building, the Foster Stevens Basketball Center and the University Bookstore.
All the while, campus leaders prepared to execute the transformation plan. The University constructed parking garages before the removal of existing parking spaces, and replaced underground utilities before above-ground amenities. For his part, McNicol began to hire people with the right skillsets, and sought nontraditional funding sources to help pay for the transformation, which was completed in 2015.
“Sometimes it’s just thinking outside the box,” said McNicol, who referred to a federal highway grant that went to enhance pedestrian mobility on campus. “Part of the reason behind the tremendous growth spurt in construction was our can-do spirit to apply for any and all grants.”
McNicol said he was proud of every building, but he especially loved the transformation of the center of campus, with its wide multi-textured pathways, decorative lighting, rock-hewn arroyos, a 130-seat amphitheater, and native or drought-resistant flowering plants, shrubs and trees.
The Green Business Certification, Inc., named UTEP’s Campus Transformation Project, which includes Centennial Plaza, the first recipient of the SITES Silver Certification for achievement in landscape sustainability in 2016. It was one of the project’s many honors.
“It’s not a building, but it will have an impact for a long time,” he said. “I’m particularly proud of it because we did it our way. It’s all about the Chihuahuan Desert and our sustainability efforts such as rain harvesting and the use of tons of recycled materials, from concrete to Andesite rocks.”
Cindy Vizcaino Villa, senior vice president for administration and finance, and chief financial officer at California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo, has known McNicol for more than 30 years. She previously served as UTEP’s vice president for business affairs from 2002 through 2015.
She praised McNicol for his creativity, his humanity and his commitment to the University. She said the projects completed and still to be completed have had and will continue to have a tremendous effect on the University’s students and employees.
“I firmly believe that UTEP is one of the most beautiful campuses in the country and there is nothing done in the last 30 years that [McNicol] has not had a hand in, and that’s a lot,” Villa said. “His fingerprint is on everything. He’s had a remarkable career and UTEP was lucky to have him. He should be extremely proud of his legacy.”
Sheila Awalt, his administrative assistant since 2009, called him the best supervisor she ever had because of his ability to listen and consider multiple perspectives.
Awalt said McNicol made her time at UTEP easy, enjoyable and rewarding because he gave her opportunities to grow beyond her title. She said he often brainstormed with her based on her academic background in horticulture, writing and publication design.
“On my first day of work, (McNicol) told me that the expectation is to be on time,” she said. “He said we set the example. He set the example for everyone. He brought out the best in each one of us. I’ll miss him.”
McNicol said he and his wife, Becky, plan to travel around the country and overseas. When not living out of a suitcase, he will play golf and work on his “honey-do” list of home projects to include training the couple’s energetic springer spaniel puppy, Rascal.