ACC Reopens Historic Campus Ahead of Bond Election

ACC shows what it can do with less than $50 million

Austin Community College's Rio Grande campus reopened Tuesday, Oct. 11 (Courtesy of Austin Community College)

There was a festive atmosphere along West 12th Street on Tuesday as Austin Community College officially unveiled the results of its $49 million renovation of the historic Rio Grande campus – less than a month before voters will decide the fate of a new $770 million bond measure to fund projects at a number of ACC's campuses. "I hope you look around and are reminded of the rich history of this building and excited for the future possibilities that lie ahead," ACC Chancellor Richard Rhodes told an assembled crowd of trustees, faculty, students, and community leaders.

The ceremony to inaugurate the renovated building at 12th and Rio Grande took place in one of its two atriums, which organizers pointed to as among the many achievements of the renovation. The atrium used to be an open courtyard; now, it boasts a lightweight roof that makes the space usable year-round while retaining its historic character.

The architects in charge of the overall renovation project focused on preserving the history of a building that's more than a century old and that for decades was the home of Austin High School. The Rio Grande campus was where the high school's Red Dragon Drama Club was formed and its Austin Maroon student newspaper was founded, and is just down the street from House Park, the iconic Central Austin football stadium. Rio Grande has been a home to ACC classes since 1975 and was the system's mother ship until it bought a building near Highland Mall to be its headquarters, and then Highland Mall itself to be its main Austin location.

One speaker at Tuesday's ceremony provided a living link to the building's past: U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who as a child lived on West Ave. and attended Austin High when it was at Rio Grande. "This one has special meaning, because in renovating this campus, it brings back so many memories," he said. "Bells ringing, great teachers, many, many good memories."

The renovation that has reinvigorated the campus was made possible by Austin voters' approval of ACC's bond program in 2014. Work on the Rio Grande campus began in 2017 and was led by Austin's Studio 8 Architects and San Antonio's Overland Partners. Rhodes said that their work and that of project manager Paul Mason "fulfills a longstanding commitment to the Austin community." The renovation has added classroom spaces and a new computer and resource lab, while also updating an existing outdoor amphitheatre (beneath street level on Rio Grande Street) with tables, chairs, and other seating options, plus Wi-Fi. The architects made sure to retain and amplify the advantages of the older building's design – Rio Grande campus manager Michelle Raymond said that nearly every classroom in the building gets natural light, a rarity at ACC campuses. The renovation as a whole also received a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification – the highest level – from the U.S. Green Building Council, which was on prominent display at Tuesday's ceremony.

As they thanked Austin voters for their support in 2014, a number of speakers were keen to remind those in the room of the new bond program that will go before voters next month. It would provide Rio Grande campus $40 million to expand its computer science and cyber security programs. Given the increasing unaffordability of traditional four-year colleges, ACC has in recent years cemented its place as a vehicle of educational opportunity and economic mobility that remains accessible to a wide swath of Austinites. "I also reflect on a couple of elections where people were saying, 'Why do we need ACC? We have UT.' And we were voted down once or twice," Doggett said. "Now the question would be, 'How can we possibly do without ACC?'"

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Austin Community College, Lloyd Doggett, Rio Grande Campus, November 2022 Elections

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