An estimated 1,200 people gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the Austin Community College District’s new Highland Campus Aug. 27.
State and local leaders joined ACC administrators, faculty, staff, and students to dedicate the college’s 11th full-service campus – a revolutionary repurposing of the former Highland Mall that will provide new and expanded educational opportunities, innovative private-partnerships, and renewed energy to the area.
Grand opening celebration
Marching bands and mascots from Austin’s Reagan and LBJ Early College High Schools kicked off a spirited celebration featuring comments from special guests, including ACC alumnus Dr. Sean Roden, who praised ACC for its role in transforming him from a struggling student to a NASA flight surgeon and expeditionary physician at the South Pole.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t remember my time at ACC in the paramedic program,” he said. “(ACC) is where I got the courage to face my academic fears and succeed.”
‘From bunker to brilliance’
The 200,000-square-foot full-service Highland Campus features state-of-the-art classrooms and labs, a library, study areas, and the ACCeleratorâ€”the nation’s largest learning lab, with 600+ computer stations for individualized learning.
“From bunker to brilliance –that’s how we’ve described this revolutionary transformation of an aging mall into a state-of-the-art learning facility,” said ACC President/CEO Dr. Richard Rhodes. “The brilliance is what happens inside. The brilliance is, we’re changing lives.”
Enrollment surpasses projections
Almost 3,900 students are registered at the Highland Campus for fall, according to unofficial numbers, exceeding projections by about 20 percent.
“ACC has time and again proved its commitment to providing affordable, accessible, quality education,” said Dawnna Dukes, Texas Representative, District 46.
The Highland Campus is the first phase of a larger project to convert the mall and surrounding area into a regional center of educational excellence and mixed-use development.
“This will be pivotally important to training workers for the jobs that are coming to Austin,” said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.
Long-term plans for the campus include repurposing Highland Mall to serve as a regional workforce innovation center, regional health sciences center including STEM simulator lab, digital and creative media center, culinary and hospitality center, and professional incubator space.
“What we do is transformation,” said Jeffrey Richard, chair of the ACC Board of Trustees.
The district will hold a bond and property tax cap election in November to fund future development phases.
“We need to give students a competitive edge, and this building is all about that,” said event speaker Andres Alcantar, chair of the Texas Workforce Commission.
‘A great day for Riverbats’
Speakers and guests expressed both pride and admiration as they shared thoughts and toured the facility.
“I’ve witnessed the ever-increasing contribution of ACC to the area, and the many ways in which ACC has made a difference – a real difference in the lives of our neighbors,” said Lloyd Doggett, U.S. Representative, Texas 35th District. “It’s a great day for Riverbats.”
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