ACC board sorts through bond construction projects

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ACC Highland
Austin Community College's newest campus at the former Highland Mall will open this fall.

Courtesy Austin Community College

The wheels are already turning on multiple Austin Community College construction projects funded by a successful bond election last November.

ACC board members have spent the start of 2015 setting policies that will help shape nearly $386 million worth of voter-approved improvements throughout the district, including the expansion of the Highland Campus, the creation of a Leander campus and the second phase of the Round Rock campus (see below for a detailed list of projects).

A proposed construction timeline presented Feb. 16 to the ACC board has the bond program’s first projects—expansions to the Round Rock, Hays and Elgin campuses—slated for completion by spring 2018. A new Leander campus would be ready by summer 2018, under the proposed timeline, and Rio Grande Campus upgrades would occur by the fall 2018 semester. The timeline also calls on the second phase of the Highland Campus—formerly the Highland Mall, which closes shopping operations April 30—to be completed by summer 2019.

The staff-proposed timeline did not go over well with some ACC board members who urged for a more expedited construction process. Board Vice Chairman Allen Kaplan said the projects should take closer to two years rather than three years as proposed.

“I’m not going to be happy with Leander and Round Rock opening in 2018,” Kaplan said. “It’s just not what we promised, and there’s no reason we can’t move faster.”

Chairman Vic Villarreal echoed that sentiment, explaining that a total of about 9,000 students are expected to be living in the Cedar Park-Leander corridor by 2018. Without the Leander campus, the Cypress Creek Campus risks becoming overcrowded to accommodate the northwest area of ACC’s district.

“I’m very hopeful as we flesh out architects, maybe we can refine our timeline,” Villarreal said.

During the same meeting, ACC board members finalized the remaining members of a 13-person Bond Oversight Advisory Committee that will oversee how the district spends the voter-approved bond money. The new committee will meet at least twice per year and monitor the timing, progress and scope of any changes to the projects voters agreed upon, according to criteria approved Jan. 20. ACC board members considered revising that criteria during its March 2 meeting but voted to postpone any changes. 

Both the board and oversight committee will weigh recommendations from the recently convened Construction, Wages and Working Conditions Task Force, which was formed last year after the bond’s approval to set working conditions and wages during the construction process. The task force, made up of construction industry representatives and members of the Workers Defense Project, which aims to ensure fair working conditions, presented its recommendations to board members Feb. 16.

The board has not yet determined whether Workers Defense Project or another entity will monitor the construction activity for any wrongdoing. However, parameters were set to ensure all projects are advertised fairly and that all workers are properly trained. The board also sided with a recommendation to pay workers at least the living wage hourly rate, which at the time was $13.38 per hour in Austin. 

The first opportunity for construction companies to pitch their project proposals to the ACC board comes during the June 1 meeting when the school district will consider architects for the second phase of the Highland Campus. Board members will next consider architects in the following months for the Leander, Round Rock, Rio Grande, Hays and Elgin campuses, respectively. 

ACC bond election proposal ($385.97 million)

Proposition 1—Planned Growth and Workforce Advancement ($224.8 million):

• Highland campus—creating space for digital media, commercial music, continuing education, culinary careers and others ($152.8 million)

• Leander campus—planned growth in the Northwest Austin area ($60 million)

• Land banking for Southeast Travis County Workforce Training Center ($12 million)

Proposition 2—Safety, Technology, Environmental and Sustainability Improvements ($161,166,950):

• Districtwide renovations—health, safety and sustainability ($80,966,950)

• Round Rock campus—program expansion ($33.4 million)

• Hays campus—establish a First Responders Training Center ($22.4 million)

• Elgin campus—create veterinary and sustainable agriculture programs ($13.2 million)

• Retrofit, repurpose older spaces for kinesiology, art, dance, radio/TV/film, trades and other majors districtwide ($11.2 million)

ACC Bond Oversight Advisory Committee

• Jesus Chavez, Round Rock

• David Glass, Elgin

• Joene Grissom, Austin

• John Hernandez, Austin

• Dan Listrom, Austin

• Terry Mazurek, Buda (co-chairman)

• Sid Sokol, Leander

• Ellen Skoviera, Round Rock

• Martha Smiley, Austin

• Erica Solis, Austin

• Robert Thomas, Austin

• Steve Yau, Austin

• Eric Zeno, Leander (co-chairman)