ACC Pinnacle closure could lead to gap in services for Southwest Austin students

Austin Community College Pinnacle campus, located at 7748 W. Hwy. 290, Austin, held final classes May 11 before closing for re-evaluations.

Austin Community College Pinnacle campus, located at 7748 W. Hwy. 290, Austin, held final classes May 11 before closing for re-evaluations.

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Pinnacle closure could lead to gap in services
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Pinnacle closure could lead to gap in services
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The Austin Community College Pinnacle campus, a 10-story, 108,000-square-foot office building that has been used as the college district’s Southwest Austin campus since being purchased in 1990, was closed indefinitely after the conclusion of the spring 2018 semester on May 11.

The campus–which historically served 2,000 students a semester with classes, a library, learning lab, computer center and commons areas; and offered duel-enrollment opportunities to local high-schoolers– requires infrastructure updates and functionality improvements, said Neil Vickers, ACC executive vice president of finance and administration.

“There have always been challenges trying to utilize that building as a campus,” he said. “Even though it was a great purchase for ACC, obviously an office building has limitations.”

Oak Hill resident Bobby Jenkins said the Pinnacle campus serves as a gateway for South Austin and Dripping Springs residents who want to start their degrees and is the most financially viable option for many in the area.

While the building has “served the district well,” ACC President and CEO Richard Rhodes said now is the right time “to take a closer look at what might enhance the campus experience for our students in the southwest region.”

Why now?

In January 2017, a water pipe burst on the top floor of the Pinnacle building, forcing it to close for two weeks. Vickers said during the repairs, staffers were able to better assess the condition of the building, including moisture damage and wear and tear expected in a building that is over 30 years old.

“None of it was alarming in a structural standpoint, but we also knew that over time, it would get worse,” he said.

Vickers said staff spent 2017 looking at aspects of the building that are not up to modern building codes as well as electrical systems, stairwells and bathrooms, which require modernization.

“What became clear at the end of last year is that no matter what renovations we do, it was going to require closing the building for some extended time,” Vickers said. “That was a new realization that resonated.”

With ACC’s new San Gabriel campus set to open in Leander this fall, as well as new facilities at the Elgin, Round Rock and Hays campuses, Vickers said the best time to shut down and assess Pinnacle is the present. The plan was presented to the ACC board of trustees in February, and the board announced the closure in March.

Rhodes said no staff members will lose jobs during the transition and would be relocated elsewhere. While most full-time staff members have been reassigned, many part-time employees are still seeking new positions.

“It was really our best opportunity to renovate and assure that everyone has a place to go,” he said. “If two years from now we had another event where we had to close Pinnacle permanently, what would we have done then?”

ACC spokesperson Jessica Vess said Pinnacle’s 2018 spring enrollment was 1,604 students. Students enroll for fall classes through the month of May, and ACC will not know the number of former Pinnacle students at each campus across the district until the enrollment period closes, she said.

What to expect

Vickers said ACC will begin evaluating the site and discussing options this summer. Ultimately, the board of trustees will make the decision as to renovate the building, expand on the site or pursue a different option, he said.

“We have a significant asset with the 50 acres that are undeveloped on that site,” he said. “We now have an opportunity to make this campus exactly what we want it to be.”

The quickest option for the district may be simply to modernize the existing building. Vickers said renovations would likely take a minimum of two years to complete.

However, a campus master plan developed in 2011 gives a glimpse of what a new campus utilizing more of the property could look like. The plan, which Vickers said was a feasibility study, shows an opportunity for four new traditional college buildings, which could support 5,000 students.  Alongside the campus, the plan outlines opportunities for additional developments, which could be owned by outside parties. The plan also assumes that if the campus is expanded, the building would be repurposed for other ACC uses or sold.

While part of the property or the existing building could get sold in the future, Vickers said no official discussions have taken place.

“If the decision is to build a new building or campus on the site, then the question will rise as to what to do with the existing one,” he said. “There are a lot of options, and selling the building is technically an option, but there are no plans to do that now.”

Vickers said he expects an updated campus plan with long-term goals could be presented over the next few months.

Options for local students

While Pinnacle may have been the closest option for Southwest Austin students, Vickers said many area students already attended other campuses based on the programs and classes they enrolled in, not the physical location.

Specific ACC programs are only available at certain campuses, which requires students to travel throughout the district, he said.

“In several cases, nothing has changed for people in Southwest Austin,” Vickers said. “Even if you’re from South Austin, you are likely doing things at our other campuses already.”

To accommodate Pinnacle, many classes offered at the school were relocated to nearby campuses, such as South Austin, he said. Vickers also pointed to the $386 million in bond projects taking place throughout the district, offering new resources to the area during the transition.

“Even though Pinnacle provides a lot of resources that are convenient to the surrounding community, we’re expanding programs and resources at our other campuses that are available to everyone in our service area,” he said. “We’re not expected noticeable impacted enrollment because of the Pinnacle closure, but there could be some individuals that might be impacted.”

Southwest Austin resident Laura Warrick, who has two children who have attended ACC and others who could in the future, said that her family has enjoyed the convenience of having a campus west of downtown Austin. She said having her children take classes at other campuses in the past has been inconvenient for her family.

“We would love to see a new or renovated campus in this location so our district tax dollars stay a little closer to home,” she said.

College students taking online classes with ACC also used Pinnacle to complete tasks like tests that are required to be taken in-person.

For residents and local organizations not associated with ACC, Pinnacle also provided meeting rooms and other services. Southwest Austin resident Bill Schiller said he and the Granada Hills Home Owners Association used Pinnacle for its meetings, and while he is sorry the campus has to close, he understands the board’s situation.

“The facility staff were always helpful, and we felt a great sense of community at ACC,” he said. “Hopefully [the board] finds the location and structure worth the investment.”

Long term, Vickers said ACC staff members agree that Southwest Austin is a growing community that needs to be served in the future.

“That is absolutely going to be a consideration as the college and the board of trustees explores their options for the Pinnacle campus,” he said.


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