ACC breaks ground on new San Gabriel campus in Leander
By Dana Delgado
LEANDER — Rain threw a mighty wrench into Austin Community College’s plans last week to break ground on its new 100-acre, $60 million San Gabriel Campus in Leander, but it didn’t stop anyone from celebrating the long-awaited event.
The groundbreaking ceremony was relocated to the adjacent MetroRail Station in Leander and then delayed an hour for persistent rain as dignitaries and attendees huddled under a large tent until skies cleared.
While ACC officials hailed the beginning of construction of its newest campus slated for a 2018 opening to provide relief to Cedar Park’s Cypress Creek campus, the Leander community rallied around and applauded their adopted native son, “Vic” Victor H.P. Villarreal, Ph.D., Chair of the ACC District Board of Trustees who moved to Leander in 2000. He was first elected to the Austin Community College District Board of Trustees in June 2010.
“This is almost 12 years in the making, but interest was started in the 1980s by the City of Leander,” said Dr. Villarreal, a former Leander City Council member from 2005 to 2009, including being mayor pro tem in 2007-2008.
“In fact, Leander has been an ACC District tax entity since 1985. In 2005, when I ran for city council, I saw a gap in higher education in the community and made it a part of my platform.”
After meeting with ACC Trustee Alan Kaplan, then council member Villarreal was encouraged and motivated when Kaplan recognized the community’s need and “put the words Leander and campus together” for the first time.
“We knew then that we were not alone,” said Villarreal who with an army of community leaders, generated a 64-page report, conducted a community survey, and hit the presentation circuit to persuade ACC leaders that the District should act on their proposal.
“From the beginning, it’s been a layered process,” Villarreal said. “The challenge early on was to move ACC from listening, to believing, and then acting like they finally did in 2010.”
In 2014, voters approved an ACC Bond providing for the construction of the San Gabriel Campus in Leander.
Chris Fielder, Mayor of Leander, said the campus in Leander would be “a new urban style campus unlike any other campus in Texas.”
The campus is located at San Gabriel Pkwy., between Hwy. 183A and Mel Mathis Blvd. near the Leander Capital Metro rail station and will primarily offer general education courses and will feature the college’s second ACCelerator Learning Center.
The first phase of construction will focus on an inclusive 106,000-square-foot building that will house classrooms, offices, the library, a student services area, common areas, and the ACCelerator, a high-tech lab geared to address student needs in mathematics and English.
In addition to technology-based instruction provided on clusters of desktop computer stations for individualized learned and small group instruction, the ACCelerator will feature an extensive student support network of faculty members, counselors, advisors, tutors, librarians, and other staff members. An initial enrollment capacity of 2,500 is projected by ACC officials.
As the 12th campus in the ACC District, the new San Gabriel campus is scheduled to be phased in over the next few years as the Leander community reaches its anticipated population of 200,000.
“This is one of the first seeds for urban and commercial growth,” said Villarreal of the new campus, which is expected to reach 12,000 students over the next several years. “We (Leander) are a very young city with very much ahead of us. I plan to work hard to continue our efforts. My hope in 10 years is that we see a comprehensive four-year university in Leander. We have what it will take – land, population and future growth.”
“The San Gabriel campus will be at the forefront of innovation as we bring additional learning opportunities to our community,” said ACC President and CEO Dr. Richard Rhodes. “Things don’t happen without great partners and a lot of community support. This campus will have a tremendous impact on the area and will provide access to students in the community.”
Rhodes said a combination of new hires and transfers from within the ACC system will staff the San Gabriel campus. ACC is a nationally recognized two-year college serving Central Texas that currently enrolls more than 41,000 credit students and serves an additional 15,000 students each year through non-credit programs.
Although Liberty Hill ISD is not part of the ACC taxing district, the college currently teaches courses at Liberty Hill High School for local students seeking dual high school and college credit. Liberty Hill residents pay out-of-district tuition to attend ACC beyond high school.
The new campus is a short drive from Liberty Hill.