A proposed site plan shows an illustration of the Holdsworth Center in Austin. Credit: Courtesy / Lake|Flato

Charles Butt’s $100 million legacy gift to Texas public education, which will be used to establish the Holdsworth Center for Excellence in Education Leadership, took a small step toward realization on Thursday, when Austin City Council saw conceptual drawings of the proposed site.

Lake|Flato architects provided concept illustrations of the proposed 44-acre campus along Lake Austin just east of the Austin 360 Bridge. The freestanding buildings and ample trees along the waterway gently fit into the residential area while accomplishing the Center’s vision.

Proposed Site Plan Illustration for The Holdsworth Center Credit: Courtesy / Lake|Flato

“We wanted a beautiful retreat,” Holdsworth Center Acting Executive Vice President Kate Rogers said.

The Holdsworth Center does not yet own the plot, which is currently zoned for single family residences. The preliminary briefing precedes the Center’s team’s application for planned unit development (PUD) zoning.

“Plan unit development gives you the ability to match the use to the land,” said attorney David Armbrust, who will represent the Holdsworth Center in the land use case. “It’s like a contract for civic use.”

Justin Garrison, an urban designer with Lake|Flato, said he looks forward to bringing Butt’s civic legacy to the site, which is surrounded by private boat docks and estates. So far, meetings with the site’s residential neighbors have been positive, Garrison added.

The site also is zoned for “Hill Country materials,” which include limestone and other materials native or appropriate to the site. Lake|Flato has been nationally recognized for its commitment to regionalism, particularly for achievements in the Texas vernacular. The requirements of the proposed site align with the firm’s area of expertise.

“[The materials zoning is] right up Lake|Flato’s alley,” Garrison said.

Rogers was impressed by Lake|Flato’s portfolio of education projects. In addition to learning centers the site will include visitor’s residences and administrative offices for the Center. Each building will be freestanding, providing conditioned work space that communicates visually and experientially with the outdoors.

“The idea is to get people outside,” Garrison said.

Kayaks, hammocks, and trails along the forested hillside contribute to the retreat atmosphere, allowing participants ample opportunity to socialize and process what they have learned.

Because of the close connection to the land, further work on the project is contingent on the site approval.

The PUD zoning process could take six months or longer, Armbrust said. It will begin with the formal zoning application, which the team hopes to file on March 1.

At some point in the process the Center’s leadership will make a final decision to purchase the site.

In the meantime, the Center will move between conference centers near its participating districts. The first cohort of six districts will begin operation in June. The Center will work with each cohort over a five-year period to strengthen district leadership for the benefit of students. Butt has pledged to contribute $100 million to the Center, which is named after his mother Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth, a longtime teacher and public education advocate.

Disclosure: Bekah McNeel’s husband, Lewis McNeel, works for Lake|Flato Architects. Lake|Flato, H-E-B, and its Chairman Charles Butt are contributors to the Rivard Report. Katy Flato is a member of the Rivard Report board. 

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.