There’s been some public confusion, but plans are going forward to transform the Highland Mall into a place of higher learning. Austin Community College purchased the mall and is currently re-purposing the vacant anchor store locations into classrooms and offices.
The first phase of the construction, and perhaps focal point of the improvements, is the Math Emporium in the old JC Penny location. The emporium will consist of almost 600 computer workstations and allow students to work individually or in groups.
“As far as we know, it will be the largest such computer lab in the nation,” Neil Vickers, ACC vice president of finance and budget, told KVUE in a recent interview.
On the second floor of the old JC Penny, ACC will have more of a traditional design. The space is being repurposed with faculty offices, science labs and a student commons – part of ACC’s newest and largest campus.
The current construction is only a glimpse into the future for ACC. The second phase of the project is still being ironed out, but could include anything from a conference center, media centers or dinning space for students.
For the time being, current tenants at the mall haven’t been forced out of their locations. In addition to a food court, stores like Aeropostale, Avon and a Champs Sports are still operational.
Those shops could have a couple years before being forced out. Even though the math emporium and old JC Penny repurposed space is expected to open to students next fall, construction isn’t expected to impact current tenants immediately.
The Highland Mall is one of Austin’s oldest consistent shopping centers. It opened in 1971, but hit hard times in the past decade as anchor shops like Dillard’s and Macy’s closed.