A grove of heritage pecans has been protected. The traffic concerns of neighbors have been addressed. An 18th century acequia has been mapped and documented. Perimeter and security questions raised by commanders at Joint Base-Fort Sam Houston have been answered.

Members of the Alamo Colleges Citizens Advisory Committee pronounced themselves pleased Tuesday night with ford, powell & carson‘s evolving design of the $45 million central headquarters campus for the Alamo Colleges on the former 12.5-acre site at 2222 N. Alamo St. that for decades was home to Playland Park.

“This campus is not just something you are building for the Alamo Colleges, it’s a campus you are building for the community,” said Gloria Ray, the CAC chairwoman and a retired senior official at Kelly Air Force Base. “This will be a great structure that really enhances the reputation of the Alamo Colleges in the city.”

Renderings for Alamo Colleges headquarters.
Renderings for Alamo Colleges headquarters. Credit: Courtesy / ford, powell & carson and WestEast Design Group

The schematic designs presented by ford, powell & carson Principals John Mize and Adam Reed showed a far more detailed and vibrant campus design than what committee members, Alamo Colleges officials, and concerned neighbors from Mahncke Park and Westfort neighborhoods reviewed in July.

The latest version that architects and committee members will show the Alamo Colleges board of trustees and senior administrators on Saturday, Nov. 12 preserves and showcases a rare grove of heritage pecan trees located on the northwest corner of the property. The tree canopy, once thinned of snag, will serve as a natural front door centerpiece to the main entrance of the North Building conference center.

More than 60% of the campus will remain undeveloped, Reed said. The two connected buildings, which will be home to more than 450 district workers, were reduced in size by 60,000 sq. ft. to 205,000 sq. ft., Mize added. The North Building conference center will still accommodate 400 people and be available for community and private events.

Rooftop solar panels for water heating and rainwater collection, and buildings that feature large, light-filled glass walls, shaded patios, and a grassy amphitheater will contribute to the project’s sustainability. The third floor views from the South Building, the larger, main administrative center, will feature unimpeded downtown skyline views. Exposed wood roof beams and soft lighting will set the buildings aglow after dark.

Renderings for Alamo Colleges headquarters.
Renderings for Alamo Colleges headquarters. Credit: Courtesy / ford, powell & carson and WestEast Design Group

Reed said the buildings will include subtle design features recalling Playland Park’s roller coaster, putt-putt course, and other attractions. Going back more than two centuries before the amusement park, designers also will honor The Acequia Madre, built in 1719, that once carried water from the San Antonio River at what is now the Witte Museum south along a route parallel with Broadway Street to Mission San Antonio de Valero, and later, to the Alamo.

Raba-Kistner, an engineering, environmental, and consulting firm, spent two weeks conducting ground radar tests and backhoe digs to locate the acequia.

The latest renderings show the original course as it entered the property from the north along Cunningham Street, and curved its way around the “Walden Pond” natural area that juts like a peninsula into Fort Sam. The acequia then winds its way through the South Building, into the amphitheater and then south to Josephine Street.

“The acequia was never stone-lined, it was just an earthen ditch,” Mize said Tuesday evening. “We don’t know yet exactly how we are going to articulate it, but we will interpret the acequia history in a visible way.”

A horseshoe-shaped roundabout will take people in arriving vehicles around the tall stand of pecan trees to the front entrance. Pedestrian and bike paths will wend through the green spaces into and around the buildings.

Mize and Reed said the significant sloping of the land and landscaping will allow architects to screen surface parking, which has been reduced in size and redistributed around the campus to lessen the “box store” effect. A 100-space lot will be located on the northern edge of the campus along Cunningham Street, and 30 more spaces will be available around the horseshoe entryway. A second 100-space lot will be located farther south on the campus. Most employees will park in a two-story parking structure that will sit on the property’s far southeast corner, where the land slopes down to its low point.

Once slated for the chainsaw or bulldozer, the cry to preserve the stand of trees was first raised by CAC vice-chair Richardson “Dick” Gill, an anthropologist who has a doctorate degree in Mayan studies from UT-Austin. Gill is the former ranch manager of Cibolo Creek Ranch in West Texas and has a deep connection to the Texas landscape.

“I am very much in favor of this plan now,” Gill said at the end of the presentation.

Ray quipped that the green space should be named “Gill’s Grove” in his honor, prompting Mize to suggest Alamo Colleges officials might want to consider those naming rights at a price. The relaxed tone of the meeting and the many empty seats on an evening when the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs were set to play a historic Game 7 in the World Series was a reflection that all sides in the design project appear to be aligned.

Approval of the design will now go to trustees.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.