Nearly 15 months after Hays County residents approved annexation that would allow for the construction of a Hays County campus of Austin Community College, the project can now move forward.
In November 2010, roughly 59 percent of voters in the Hays Consolidated Independent School District voted to approve annexation into the ACC District. According to the lawsuit filed by Kyle dentist Dr. Ray Wolbrecht, the annexation election should have been invalidated because residents were improperly informed about the maximum amount ACC can raise property taxes.
On Jan. 13, the Texas Supreme Court ended that challenge, allowing ACC to begin the process of issuing bonds to finance construction of the campus.
“Since the lawsuit has been resolved, we finally have clearance to move forward with the issuance of bonds,” said Neil Vickers, ACC associate vice president for finance and budget. “We’ve been working, doing as much as we can do, without having bonds.”
Vickers said that since 2010, the board of trustees has selected an architect and a construction manager for the project.
“We’ve known in very general terms about how much money would be available for construction. Obviously we can’t narrow it down too much, but we can give them a general idea,” he said.
The campus originally was set to follow the same timeline as a new Elgin campus, which is on track to hold its first classes in fall 2013.
“The timeline is going to have to be revisited, [but] what has always been our goal is we are going to build as much as we can build and get it up and running as quickly as we can,” Vickers said.
Alexis Patterson, senior public information coordinator for ACC, said the district has incorporated Hays County students since 2010.
“Since annexation, the residents in Hays CISD have been able to have the lower in-district tuition rate, and the community’s been considered a full partner in the district since the vote. They have full access to all the programs at any of our campuses,” she said.
The two main effects of the delay in construction will be an increase in costs over the lifetime of bonds issued and a slight decrease in the size of the campus facilities.
In 2010, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government was offering Build America Bonds, through which the government subsidized a portion of the bonds’ interest costs. That program expired Dec. 31, 2010.
“In that program, the federal government would have reimbursed the college for 35 percent of the interest cost of bonds,” Vickers said. “The lost subsidy was $21 million that the federal government would have paid on our behalf.”
On March 5, the ACC District board of trustees approved a resolution that allows officials to move forward to issue $45 million in bonds. Vickers said that figure is one district officials have been using very generally since the project’s inception.
“About $10 million is actually to pay off the land that we purchased. That’s going to leave somewhere in the ballpark of around $35 million for project costs,” he said.
As for programming, Vickers said the loss of the Build America Bonds came early enough in the process that no specific items had to be removed from the plans.
“It’s not like I can go in and say, ‘We had to cut this many labs or programs,’ but no doubt it reduced the total size of the budget,” he said. “In general, we won’t be able to build as much square footage as we would have been able to build.”
ACC officials are aiming for a campus of between 70,000 and 80,000 square feet, he said.
The Hays campus will be constructed on 96 acres in the Plum Creek development in Kyle, at the intersection of FM 1626 and Kohler’s Crossing.
The corner on which the campus will sit faces the Hays CISD Performing Arts Center, and I-35 can be seen in the distance to the east. Little else surrounds the area, but developers have high hopes for what will come once ACC begins construction.
Peter French, director of operations for Plum Creek, said they are already in discussion with a developer to build high-end multi-family housing nearby.
“I think once they turn dirt on that ACC campus, the level of activity is going to really, really pop,” he said. “The multi-family group, that’s definitely in their thinking about why this is a great long-term [option]. They are looking not just at what the demographics look like today, but what the demographics are going to look like in five years from now.”
French said he anticipates an upswing in interest from other developers once ACC breaks ground on the site.
“Normally, 100 acres that they buy would be surrounded by, who knows—a dozen property owners? Two dozen property owners?—a lot of people, who do not have a unified vision,” he said. “We are really thrilled about the opportunity to examine [at] both the high level and the very micro level what we can do to make this campus stronger and more successful.”