Austin Community College District (ACC) celebrated the grand opening of its newest campus green space at ACC Highland on Monday, August 28. Hundreds of ACC faculty, staff, students, and guests attended the ribbon-cutting for the St. John Encampment Commons and UFCU Pavilion.

“Today, this land is home to ACC Highland Campus. Long before that, it was home to the St. John Regular Missionary Baptist Association. We are honored to bring this land back to the community in such a special way,” says ACC Chancellor Dr. Richard Rhodes. “I hope our Riverbats today and the Riverbats of tomorrow will come here to gather, relax, and share in conversation.”

Dr. Rhodes also announced that the land has been recognized for its historical significance and preservation. The college was presented with an official historical marker from the Texas Historical Commission, which was installed at the south entrance to the commons.

The ribbon-cutting event featured remarks from ACC Chancellor Dr. Rhodes, Operations and Public Affairs Executive Vice Chancellor Dr. Molly Beth Malcolm, Trustee Gigi Edwards Bryant; special guests Mount Zion Pastor Rev. Dr. Darryl L. Horton and UFCU President/CEO Michael Crowl; and elected guests U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Texas Representative Sheryl Cole, and Austin City Council Member Jose “Chito” Vela. 

“This is really exciting being here. I know that this was a dream of Dr. Clark, my predecessor, and it’s so exciting to just see the dreams become reality — to see the drawings become something tangible that you can touch,” says Dr. Horton. “So, I’m grateful for ACC, because they’ve lived up to their commitment, to their promise, not just to Dr. Clark, but it’s the fact that they’re honoring the legacy of St. John Baptist Association, and it’ll be here for generations to come. So, this is a fantastic day.”

Congressman Doggett recalled his first experience with the St. John Regular Baptist Association 50 years ago. 

“For me, St. John has truly been a rock for the ages. I’m so pleased that the work of St. John at this very location, its beginning, is being given permanent recognition,” says Doggett.

“As ACC employees, we are honored to work in an institution that has returned a portion of this land to its original educational purposes, and we are proud that we have done so,” says Dr. Malcolm. 

She called the pavilion the capstone of project. “The pavilion is shaped for you, the visitor, to use your imagination,” says Dr. Malcolm, then suggesting it could be a tent that housed St. John Baptist congregants who traveled to Austin from all over Central Texas for the annual camp meetings; one of the open-air tabernacles that accommodated religious services, classes, and recitals on the grounds; or an open book.

The new UFCU Pavilion offers a space for college events, performances, and activities. ACC broke ground on the pavilion in March 2023. It is named in honor of the $5 million donation the University Federal Credit Union presented to ACC for student scholarships in 2022. 

The celebration also featured special performances of “Lift Every Voice” and “Song of Praise” by Otha McClinton and Dr. Gloria Quinlan, respectively. The performances marked the first at the UFCU Pavilion.

Watch the grand opening ceremony below.

The 2.5-acre St. John Encampment Commons is located across Wilhelmina Delco Drive at the northeast corner of the ACC Highland South Parking Garage and across from the City of Austin Permitting & Development Center. The space includes outdoor tables and seating, paved and gravel trails, and outdoor art exhibits.

The land the Commons is on was part of the 306 acres purchased by the St. John Association — founded by African-American Baptists in 1867 — to build an orphan’s home and school. The construction of the St. John Orphanage and Industrial Institute was completed in 1909. It closed in 1942 due to the Great Depression. After the main building burned down in 1956, the land was sold to developers and became Highland Mall in 1971. ACC purchased the mall in 2011 for its Highland Campus, returning the land to its educational and community roots.

View photos from the event in the slideshow below. View the full photo album on Flickr.