Magic at the mall: A first look at the 2nd phase of ACC’s Highland Campus


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Wednesday, Austin Community College District offered a look inside the long-anticipated changes to Phase Two of the District’s Highland Campus.

This is the next step in a project more than a decade in the making to transform the old Highland Mall in central Austin into a state-of-the-art facility for academics and workforce development.

The second phase of ACC Highland includes new Culinary Arts Facilities, Health Sciences simulation labs, a new incubator dedicated to manufacturing and studios for the Radio-Television-Film programs.

These updates also include the new Jacob Fontaine Plaza off of Airport Boulevard with an art installation and park that are open to the community.

Back in 2010, the district began buying buildings at the mall that has previously been occupied by retail stores like Dillard’s and Macy’s.

The first phase of the ACC Highland Campus opened in 2014 with classrooms, library study areas and the ACCelerator (which ACC says is the country’s largest computer learning lab). In 2014, voters in the ACC district approved bonds including $152.8 million for Phase Two of the Highland Campus.

In 2015, the Highland Mall closed.

The exterior of the ACC Highland Campus with Phase 2 of changes there finishing up. Image Courtesy Austin Community College District.

This newly unveiled second phase aims to add facilities for technical career education and hands-on experience to prepare students for the workforce.

For the fall semester, most classes across the ACC district remain online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. An ACC spokesperson said the district’s vision is to start welcoming some students back to the Highland Campus this spring, as health and safety concerns with COVID-19 allow.

The preview of Highland Campus Phase Two on Wednesday gave a community a preview of the new resources that will be available to the ACC community when more in-person learning is safe to resume.

New developments on campus

Phase Two of the Highland Campus includes new facilities for Culinary Arts programs at ACC. This includes a new bake shop, demonstration kitchen and a new on-campus restaurant.

Health Sciences students will have access to lots of different mannequins on campus to practice with—including mannequins that can be programmed to simulate patient heart attacks. Students also have access to a phlebotomy lab.

Phase 2 also comes with ACC’s newest incubator: the Manufacturing IMPACT Lab. In this space, students can learn to design products and software for AE CAD. There is also lab space for engineering students as well as workshop space at this incubator.

ACC Mechanical Engineering student Samuel Oster got an early tour of the new engineering facilities included in Phase 2.

“it was really cool,” Oster said. “Of course, it’s all still under construction so I saw a lot of people working really hard there, but I can see the potential.”

“It’s really going to be a nice space to learn,” he added.

“Once the Highland Campus is done, people will probably be confused and think its an actual university, cause now there’s apartments on campus, there’s shops and all these facilities, it’s great,” he added.

Oster has taken classes at the Highland Campus for several semesters and says the campus has changed a great deal over the past few years.

“The building its almost like two times as big now, they are adding so much there,” he said. “Its kind of unfortunate that I won’t be able to take classes there ’cause this is my last semester here.”

Oster hopes to get an engineering job with a company once he graduates from ACC, then pursuing another degree at a university after he has some work experience under his belt.

Dr. Mark Cunningham, an associate professor of Radio, Television and Film at ACC, was also allowed onto the Highland Campus for this early preview of Phase 2.

Cunningham, who has been teaching with ACC for eight years now, says his department is currently housed on ACC’s Northridge campus, which he describes as “nice enough” but definitely an “older campus.”

“To walk into Phase 2 and to see the multi-cam[era] rooms, the screens and the podcast rooms, and the new classrooms that offer a technological capability that we do not have at Northridge, its exciting,” Cunningham said.

“It really gives, I believe, us as professors and staff members an opportunity to reach students that we haven’t been able to do before. To kind of really be able to vary our lessons and to be able to really engage students in ways that just makes them excited about learning, makes them excited about being with ACC, it’s really something fantastic, it’s something to see.”

The Radio-Television-Film Department is getting new studios as well as a room that looks like a mini-movie theater, where ACC students and instructors can screen films.

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