ACC’s Rio Grande Campus Reopens After $49 Million Renovation

Story by Jonathan Gonzales

Edited by Pete Ramirez

Austin Community College’s Rio Grande campus reopened for the fall 2021 semester in a limited capacity after undergoing renovations that began four years ago during the fall of 2017.

The building that makes up ACC’s Rio Grande Campus has been around for more than 100 years and with an injection of $49 million worth of renovations, has been reconfigured into a high-tech home for higher learning. 

The upgraded building sits on a rectangular block in downtown Austin off of Rio Grande Street and 12th Street now boasts 60 classrooms and an ACCelerator similar to the one at ACC’s Highland campus.

A large three story building that was built in the early 1900s fills the frame. This is ACC's Rio Grande Campus' rear entrance.
The rear entrance to ACC’s Rio Grande campus faces West Street in downtown Austin. Photo by Pete Ramirez

An interesting challenge that the architects and contractors tasked with renovating the building had to overcome was what to do with the two open-air courtyards that sit in the middle of the structure. They decided to use a hybrid Teflon material to create tent domes over the courtyards and add air conditioning which created two beautiful, large spaces inside of the building.

The Rio Grande building first opened in 1916 and served as Allan Junior High. In 1925, the building became the home of Austin High School, and later in 1975, it became another of Austin Community College’s campuses.

After hearing about the upgrades planned for the campus, Dr. Roy Casagranda, an ACC professor in the government/history department, was ecstatic. Dr. Casagranda has been teaching for 20 years and has seen many changes come to the school.

A view from inside an empty classroom at the Rio Grande campus. Through the window you can see a sunny afternoon and the Texas Capitol dome.
The view from one of the newly renovated classrooms has a sightline directly to the Texas Capitol. Photo by Dr. Casagranda

When Casagranda took his first steps into the campus to check on the status of the redesign, he said he was “speechless.” The interior was exquisite and completely new.

 Casagranda loved the new library, the well-equipped labs and the spacious pristine classrooms. Casagranda’s favorite thing about the entire renovation was the exterior which now includes multiple areas where students and faculty can use to study and lounge. According to Casagranda, the campus faculty has plans to create a garden outside and display art from students within the halls of the school.

An image of an empty classroom. The room is clean, has large windows and new furniture.
ACC’s Rio Grande campus features 60 classrooms each filled with brand new furniture and equipment. Photo by Pete Ramirez

The Rio Grande campus is open from 7 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday and closed on Saturday and Sunday. Students can park in the parking garage located one block to the west of the Rio Grande campus by the No-Comply skate shop. The ACC Bookstore is not available at this campus yet and the ACCelerator is not yet ready for students to use either.

As construction nears completion in 2023, the campus will continue to provide many opportunities for students to gain their education. It has brought joy to Austin-area students and faculty for more than 100 years and it’s now well prepared to continue to serve the community for another 100 years.

An outdoor image of the side of ACC's Rio Grande campus. There are large steps of limestone that lead into an outdoor lounge area for students.
A new outdoor space at Austin Community College’s Rio Grande campus where students and teachers can lounge and study. Photo by Pete Ramirez


Karen Zimmermann, Contributor 

“There’s no such thing as pure black or pure white,” Thomas Hilton said, pointing to the almost-black circle in the center of a pop-art geometric piece. Hilton, the exhibition director, pointed out how there was a slight amber glare on the spot from the studio lighting above.

“So pure black and pure white are more… theoretical?” I asked.

“When you add light, yes,” Hilton said.

The theme of the Monochrome exhibition was a limited palette — not just black and white, but those were the colors featured most prominently.

Lines, contrast and an emphasis on form filled the space. In fact, visitors found themselves walking on artwork composed of light variations alone — a human shadow dominated the floor.

Sketches and black-and-white photos were a natural presence, as were several kinds of prints, which were created by using a carved material like a stamp, making art from the difference between. The presence and absence of ink on the paper created the artwork. Each three dimensional piece was a single color, not simple black or white, but one that served to summarize its character.

The paintings that did incorporate an actual color – a hue – did so with power, as they stood by the black, white and grays, forcing the viewer to really con- sider the hue.

In an accidental way, Monochrome seemed to hit just in time for Halloween. A good number of the works had a spooky sense to them: undeterminable, vaguely writhing forms, sullen women looking away, unattended life- style objects, skulls and organs.

“Black-and-white images can have a dark association,” artist Anthony Curia said. Curia, a graphic design student, displayed his print of a skull and candle in the exhibition.

The next exhibition scheduled for the Rio Grande Gallery is the ACC Art Majors Exhibition. Student artwork will be on display from Nov. 12 through Dec. 11. The annual ACC Holiday Art Sale which will feature student art is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 4.