ACC plans for future campus in Leander

ACC plans for future campus in Leander

By Jenn Rains Friday, 18 June 2010 – Community Impact News

College buys 100 acres within city’s transit-oriented development

LEANDER — The process of trying to get a college interested in the city of Leander has been ongoing for more than five years, but a big step was taken in May when Austin Community College closed on land in the city.

ACC announced May 13 that the college bought property—100 acres—within the transit-oriented development in north central Leander. The land, which was purchased from RB 270 Partnership, is near the Capital Metro Rail Station.

“The proximity to the rail and the toll roads had an influence on our location,” said Ben Ferrell, executive vice president for finance and administration for ACC. “That’s where the mass transit is now and in the future, and it’s the most convenient location for a school to go there.”

Leander Urban Design Officer Pix Howell said having an ACC campus within the TOD is a perfect fit for the type of community the city is trying to build.

“We’re trying to create a neighborhood, a community. Education and medical facilities are ideal for the urban environment,” Howell said. “An educational facility kind of becomes the cultural heart of the community.”

Though no plans have been made for the design of the campus, Ferrell said it would be a large campus that could accommodate between 10,000 and 12,000 students.

“We haven’t really considered a design, but we do know when we get there we want it to fit in with the plans of the development around us. We want to tailor it to the community’s needs,” Ferrell said. “By buying a piece of land that big, we want students to get everything they need at that campus.”

The campus, which will house core classes, transfer courses and workforce classes, could also have a specialization, but no specifics have been determined yet.

“We do not have any details worked out for the campus. We’re trying to get the land banking in order,” Ferrell said. “We have to wait for the population to catch up [before building a campus], but Leander’s growing pretty quickly.”

A district-wide master planning process for existing campuses is under way and will be presented to the ACC board. Once complete ACC will look at plans for future campuses and have a better idea when the campus will be built.

“This is a feather in our region’s cap,” Leander Mayor John Cowman said. “A whole group of people will now have access that they didn’t have before. That’s what we’re all about.”

Years of planning

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The process of attracting a college to Leander began in 2003 when Cowman and other council members like Michell Cantwell set their goals of bringing a college to town.

“We had our government in place, but we need medical and education,” Cowman said. “The TOD was a wonderful enticement.”

When Vic Villarreal, a professor at ACC and the newly elected ACC board of trustees Place 5 member, became part of the council, he joined the push for a college.

“I campaigned on bringing a college to the city because Leander was ready for a college campus,” Villarreal said. “We’ve been in the taxing district for 25 years and we didn’t even have a center, much less a campus.”

In 2005, the council passed a resolution to actively seek a college, and at that point, a survey was needed to show ACC or other colleges that the residents of Leander wanted a college.

Villarreal headed up a survey process that went to businesses, residents and area high school students. The surveys resulted in a 64-page report detailing the city’s desire for higher education and workforce classes close to home.

“We had to convince them that the city was ready and needed a college, ” Villarreal said. “A couple of months later we were on ACC’s budget for a center at Leander High School.”

Leander was included in ACC’s long-range facilities master plan in 2007, Ferrell said.           

“We hire planners to assist us in coming up with district-wide master plans where they say, ‘Here’s what you need to do and this is where,'” Ferrell said. “Leander was identified as a potential high-growth area. ACC can help them and be part of it.”

While not part of the council anymore, Villarreal said he is happy to see the progress he worked so hard for taking shape.

“This is very meaningful and great for Leander,” he said. “We moved them from not paying attention to us to now they believe us and are a real stakeholder in this city. We’re very important on their map now.”

Choosing the site

Ferrell said the process of determining a location in Leander had ACC looking at more than two dozen properties, before choosing the 100-acre parcel.

“We looked at long-range growth patterns and at major roadways because if a major road is there, that’s where the growth is going to be,” Ferrell said.

He said the site chosen was ideal because of its proximity to the TOD, US 183, Toll 183A, the rail and bus services.

While the TOD provides a perfect location for the campus because of accessibility, the campus also has an impact on the TOD’s future.

“[The college] will accelerate a lot of growth,” Howell said. “Anytime you have a large attractor, it gives retailers an idea of what kind of possible shopping pressure they might experience and the kind of shopping that’ll be going on.”

Howell said the other benefit to having ACC housed in the TOD is the attraction of businesses to meet the courses students are taking.

“If they were to have a bunch of coursework in a particular field of study, then you’re going to have some kind of spinoff of supplier or similar [business] that could either support or feed off of those students,” he said.