Leander has been waiting a long time for this.
Thirty-three years after property owners in the Leander school district began paying taxes to Austin Community College, ACC is about to open a campus here. Dubbed San Gabriel, for the river fed by a nearby tributary, the campus will host a grand opening celebration Wednesday, with classes starting Aug. 27.
“We could not be more pleased that it’s there and offering opportunities to our kids to get their postsecondary degrees,” said Pam Waggoner, president of the Leander school board.
ACC’s architects, Pfluger Associates and SmithGroupJJR, designed a three-story, 111,404-square-foot building with ample glass for natural light on 100 acres just west of the 183-A tollway and south of San Gabriel Parkway. The land cost $12.4 million, and the budget for the building was $60 million. Capital Metro is connecting its nearby Leander station to the campus with a pedestrian and bicycle bridge.
The building is designed to accommodate 2,500 students, and David Tucker, manager of the campus, expects 2,000 or so initially.
Among the building’s features: concrete block exterior walls burnished a soft beige, exposed structural steel, raisin-colored aluminum beams and wood-slat ceiling tiles. Other touches include a large terrace on the top floor and ground-level terraces cooled by large, eight-bladed fans supplied by — and this is no joke — the Big Ass Fan Co.
A centerpiece of the building is a large computer lab, dubbed the Accelerator like one at ACC’s Highland campus in North Austin, with nearly 200 stations. It will be a hub for innovative classes, tutoring, academic coaching, career advising and other services.
“The idea is to take professors out of the classroom and put them in open space,” said Curtiss Stevens, the college’s executive director of ACCelerators. “The energy of it is so magnetic.”
School officials have found at Highland that the lab’s size creates an environment where students who need help don’t feel that they are being singled out. Students who take developmental, or remedial, math in that lab have posted much higher passing rates than their counterparts in traditional classrooms.
The San Gabriel campus also has computer labs for networking and coding, biology and chemistry labs, and general education classrooms.
The grand opening of the campus is on the same day that ACC’s Pinnacle campus in Southwest Austin will close, so the college’s complement of campuses in Central Texas will remain at 11. School officials haven’t decided whether to renovate the 10-story building at Pinnacle or construct a new building, although the latter seems a more likely option given the existing structure’s need for extensive upgrades and its inherent awkwardness because it was formerly an office building.
The San Gabriel campus was made possible by a $386 million bond package approved by voters in 2014. The bond package is also underwriting renovations to the college’s 100-year-old Rio Grande campus building, as well as expansion projects at the Highland, Hays, Elgin and Round Rock campuses. In addition, the bonds funded the $10.5 million purchase — completed in 2015 — of about 124 acres in southeastern Travis County for future development of a career-technical training center.
ACC’s enrollment last fall stood at 38,462 students, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Boosting graduation rates is a perennial challenge. Among full-time students attending college for the first time, 26.1 percent who enrolled in ACC in 2008 graduated from ACC or a public university in Texas by 2014, according to coordinating board data. Among 2011 enrollees, the graduation rate by 2017 was 27.6 percent; the statewide average was 33.7 percent.