Austin Community College held the grand opening of Phase 2 of its Highland campus on Friday, more than 10 years after the college first purchased the former mall where the campus is located.
The Highland Campus in North Austin was formerly home to the Highland Mall, which was Austin’s first indoor mall when it opened in 1971. ACC began purchasing portions of the mall in 2010 and opened portions of the new campus by phases on the site, starting with phase 1 in 2014.
Friday’s event celebrated the opening of Building 2000, a 415,000 square foot building that includes performance venues, a student-run restaurant, art galleries and music recording labs. Classes in the building began in the spring of 2021, although the official grand opening was delayed until this month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Richard Rhodes, the ACC Chancellor, said the area where the campus is located has been an important part of the Austin community for decades. After its transformation into a college, he said the school now helps teach and train the future Central Texas workforce with state-of-the-art facilities, such as production studios and manufacturing labs.
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“What’s happening here is more than the opening of a university campus. It’s about working together collaboratively to build a better future,” Rhodes said. “It’s about innovating and developing new, more effective ways of learning to help our students succeed. It’s about transforming this land into a world-class learning environment that will transform the lives of thousands of people.
In a bond election in November 2014, voters approved two bonds representing $386 million in capital improvements for ACC, including a new campus in Leander and renovations for other ACC campuses. Surety provided approximately $152.8 million for Phase 2 of ACC’s Highland Campus.
The Phase 2 VIP grand opening included a campus tour; speeches by city and college leaders; a ribbon cutting; and the premiere of ACC’s new song, which included a rap and lyrics in Spanish. ACC will host a community open house with interactive tours and panel discussions from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to welcome the public to campus.
At the grand opening, ACC Board Chair Nan McRaven praised the school’s collaboration with other organizations through its fashion incubator, culinary institute and design studios. ACCTV television, which have a partnership with Austin PBS, Austin’s public television station.
“Highland Mall is a special place for me because, of course, maybe like many of you, I shopped here in the 70s in the 80s,” McRaven said. “We’ve been able to turn this space into something special for the community, for our students, and for the neighborhood, and I’m very, very proud of what we’ve been able to do.”
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Austin Mayor Steve Adler said that while he is concerned about the lack of affordability in Austin which contributes to less innovation, diversity and art in the city, the ACC and its students who frequent the new building on the Highland campus can help solve the problem.
“Affordability has two components. You’re trying to make things cheaper, and we’re certainly working on that as best we can with bonds and grants and programs, but the other way to deal with affordability is to help people have more money to spend,” Adler said at the event. “(How) do we help people have more money to spend? It’s this campus and it’s ACC.
Future phases of ACC Highland will include parking facilities, the college’s administrative offices, its television studios and community spaces. The full campus will be 1.2 million square feet with classrooms for 21,000 students, according to a college press release.
ACC student Saliyah Parker told the American-Statesman that ACC helped her achieve her goals and continue her education with the “state-of-the-art facilities” located on the Highland campus, and she is excited to see how ACC is growing to continue helping students.
“I really think the money and time and effort that they put into these buildings and these updates is really going to be beneficial for the students taking these courses to give them some real world experience before they go out so that they have something to do. benchmark when they start their career,” Parker said.