Higher education coming to Leander

Austin Community Collegeu2019s 100-acre lot at the corner of Hero Way and Toll 183A in Leander is slated for a new campus, which is expected to open in summer 2018 and offer general education classes.

Austin Community Collegeu2019s 100-acre lot at the corner of Hero Way and Toll 183A in Leander is slated for a new campus, which is expected to open in summer 2018 and offer general education classes.

The 100-acre parcel of land for the Austin Community College Leander campus near Toll 183A and Hero Way has sat undeveloped since 2010 when it was purchased, but ACC’s plans for the campus are now moving forward.

At their July 6 meeting, ACC trustees approved Pfluger Architects as the architect and engineering firm for the campus. In the coming year, ACC will seek community input for what should be included on campus and could break ground by July 2016.

Building a campus in Leander has been a passion project for ACC board Chairman Vic Villarreal for nearly a decade. He first championed the project in 2006 when he was a Leander City Council member and wrote a report detailing the higher education gap between western and eastern Williamson County. The report included a survey to which more than 500 residents in Leander responded and shared their thoughts about what academic and workforce resources were needed.

The report also includes projected Leander ISD enrollment growth and a population estimate for Leander of more than 160,000 residents by 2025. Leander ISD is the largest school district in Williamson County, and the city currently has an estimated population of more than 30,000, according to the city of Leander.

“This [report] is really the instrument that we used to try to get the attention of institutions of higher education to look at Leander and understand that there is a gap in western Williamson County for higher ed,” Villarreal said.

In 2010, Villarreal gave up his job as an ACC adjunct faculty member to run for a position on ACC’s board of trustees and was elected as the first board member from Leander to sit on the dais, he said. He is also the first board chairman from outside of Travis County, he said.

Higher education coming to LeanderDuring the next four years board members discussed a bond election and project priorities. Having a Leander voice on ACC’s bond committee was crucial to keeping the campus a priority project, Villarreal said.

Historically the college’s trustees had not made suburban areas of ACC’s region a priority, ACC board Vice Chairman Allen Kaplan said.

“The college was very Austin-centric for many, many years,” he said. “If you look at where our campuses were and what was happening, we were building campuses in constricted tracts. … Generally, I would say the boards have evolved over the last 15 years from being totally Austin-centric, to ‘We’re a region, we’re not only Austin. … It was a change of vision and logic.”

In November 2014 voters passed a $386 million ACC bond, allocating about $60 million in funds to build a campus in Leander.

“Leander ISD was growing. The pipeline was exploding—that [was] our market, those are the people coming to college,” Kaplan said. “[Capital] Metro [built] the Red Line, and it just seemed really logical that Leander was going to be our next step.”

The history of ACC Leander

In 2005, Leander City Council approved a resolution to support efforts to attract higher education into the city, which came 20 years after Leander residents first became part of ACC’s taxing district.

ACC trustees finalized the purchase of the land in 2010 for $12 million in Leander’s transit-oriented development district, or TOD. It was the largest amount ACC had ever spent on land banking at that time.

The catalyst to create Leander’s TOD came from a need to address area growth and create a more walkable, urban environment, said Pix Howell, former urban design officer for the city of Leander. In 2003 there was great interest from stakeholders in Central Texas to develop an urban landscape with mixed-use development as a solution to population growth, Howell said.

“The TOD was the future of where we felt Leander high growth would occur,” Villarreal said.

Leander transportation and development planners, as well as the mayor, traveled throughout the state to assess development options, and a market analysis was conducted revealing Leander was expected to double in size in the future. ACC’s board decided being located in the center of Leander’s TOD would bode well for its future campus because of the campus’ proximity to Capital Metro’s Leander Station and Toll 183A.

“The TOD corridor has the real potential to become a strong regional jobs center,” Villarreal said. “Including, but also beyond retail, creating opportunities within professional, research and educational careers.”

Campus possibilities

ACC Leander will open in summer 2018 and will have an initial capacity for about 2,000 students, relieving the overcrowded Cypress Creek campus in Cedar Park, Kaplan said. More than 5,000 students attend the Cypress Creek campus, which has a capacity of about 3,400.

Since 2010 the number of students living in the 78641 ZIP code in Leander attending ACC campuses has increased, according to ACC enrollment data. In fall 2010 there were 1,383 Leander residents attending ACC classes; in fall 2014 there were 1,413.

Although architectural design and some academic programs have not yet been determined, staffers have overarching ideas for the new campus. Charles Cook, ACC provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, said Leander’s campus could include a miniature version of the ACCelerator lab at ACC  Highland Campus. The lab at Highland is staffed with ACC academic tutors and staff to help students work through courses including developmental math at their own pace. Cook said this type of learning style has been successful, adding a similar facility in Leander could be beneficial for students.

The campus will have a library and media center, computer labs and multipurpose rooms. Multiuse flexible spaces, as well as collaborative open areas with ample seating and meeting areas, could work well for Leander, Cook said.
“The programming elements of Highland are strong and should be replicated,” Villarreal said. “Although there [are] different academic needs within our region … and there are similar needs for programming.”

ACC and the architecture firm will go through an extensive community engagement process before details for Leander’s campus are finalized, which could continue for one year, Kaplan said.

Cook said he is meeting with other agencies for partnership opportunities, including Leander ISD, for early college courses for high school students.

“We’re very anxious to hear back from the community about what kinds of career and technology programs they are interested in,” he said. “We really want that conversation to be had in concert with the community. We don’t want to presuppose and force our vision without having that.”

For additional coverage from our media partner KVUE, watch: Plans for Leander's ACC campus, an interview with the story's author, Lyndsey Taylor. 

Editor's note: This story was updated July 21 to reflect an updated time frame for the opening of the campus.


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