Architects proposed two revised plans for Alamo Colleges’ new headquarters at the district’s board meeting Tuesday in response to community concerns over the original design. Instead of increasing neighborhood traffic and adding a sprawling surface parking lot, the new plans would preserve heritage trees, redistribute parking, and put an emphasis on the site’s historic acequia.
The board of trustees will vote to approve one of the plans next week.
“We’ve really made this a very public process, which actually fits the design and the direction (in which) this project should be going,” said Adam Reed, principal architect at ford, powell & carson (FPC), the architecture firm hired to design the new headquarters alongside WestEast Design Group and landscape architects Rialto Studio.
According to modified renderings (see images below), the new campus, built between Fort Sam Houston and Broadway on the 12.5 acre vacant site of Playland Park, would incorporate natural features and the area’s rich history in its overall design. Structured above-ground and underground parking would allow green space and trails to take the place of approximately 130 surface parking spots in the initial rendering. The 470 surface parking spaces remaining in the current plan would be more evenly distributed throughout the campus.
Northern entrances along Cunningham Street were removed in the updated schemes to address worries that they would exacerbate already increasing congestion. Reed explained that the plans also aim to provide appealing walking and biking spaces for community members and “make as many of the singular-use items, such as parking lots and roof tops, dual use” for programming after hours, such as farmers markets, outdoor activities, and large events.
The modifications came in response to a July 28 public meeting and site visit, where architects took feedback from Westfort residents and the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) tasked with recommending the campus plans to the Alamo Colleges board of trustees.
“We had a great community conversation,” CAC Chairwoman Gloria Ray told the trustees. Ray frequently referred to the new design as “an urban oasis.”
Four basic principles for the site’s design emerged from these discussions, she said, including planning around a variety of long-term uses, maximizing ecological responsibility, fostering ample green spaces, and maintaining opportunities for future public-private collaborations and continued growth.
“The architectural plans should maximize our use of the extraordinary beauty of this site,” added CAC Vice Chairman Richard Gill, whose appeal to preserve a cluster of mature pecan trees on the property’s northwest edge led architects to include it as a major design feature.
The two schemes, labeled Option A and Option B in the below images, differ in their concentration of building and parking space as well as the main pathway used to navigate the campus. While Option A includes approximately 400 surface parking spots on the area’s southern end, Option B distributes some of these to the north. This allows space for the main pathway to follow the historic Acequia Madre waterway, which cuts diagonally across the property.
Both the advisory committee and the majority of trustees voiced an initial preference for Option B.
“I really like Option B in that it’s really looking at the the future as well as now,” said Board Chairwoman Yvonne Katz (D7), referring to space for expansion provided in Option B’s southwest corner. “That’s really important because we don’t know what some programs might require in the future.”
Both concepts propose ways to sensitively engage the area’s ecology, blur the line between parking and landscape, and embrace sustainability strategies used elsewhere by Alamo Colleges, such as solar shading, Reed said.
The main purpose of the new campus is to consolidate Alamo Colleges’ 465 district support operations employees, who are currently spread across multiple buildings and sites on West Sheridan Street, West Houston Street, and Pat Booker Road. Deferred maintenance and health hazards have driven an increasing need for a unified administrative campus. Issues with employee safety, especially troubling at the West Houston Street location, would also be significantly reduced by the presence of Alamo Colleges Police at the new campus.
Funds from a $55 million revenue bond approved by the board in July 2015 will finance construction, while the eventual sale of current properties will lower net costs to an estimated $45 million. Specific discussion of how the project will meet this budget will occur once the board of trustees decides on its desired scheme, said John Strybos, Alamo Colleges associate vice chancellor of Facilities Operation and Construction Management. The prospect of generating extra funds through public-private partnerships remains a tentative option.
One thing that seems clear, however, is that community members have been heard and will continue to be a priority vision for the new campus.
“I would like for them to keep being informed and involved in what’s going on,” trustee Denver McClendon (D2) said. “There are some very active members of the (Westfort neighborhood) association in that area, and they want to be involved and should be.”
Ray and Gill have agreed to collaborate closely with Westfort’s neighborhood association and other concerned citizens, continuing to integrate community feedback as the project progresses.
Top Image: Gloria Ray, chairwoman of the Alamo Colleges Citizen Advisory Committee, walks by Westfort neighborhood residents studying renderings at WestEast Design Group’s offices at Pearl at a late July meeting. Photo by Robert Rivard.