ACC Rio Grande Campus

ACC Rio Grande Campus

Historical Renovation Project  |  Austin, Texas
Utilizing over 600 of Kolbe's Ultra Series windows, a Texas community college replicates historic detail while achieving LEED® Platinum certification for energy and environmental design. 
Video - Art from the Embers - Sonoma Valley, California

The newly renovated Rio Grande Campus Main Building at Austin Community College (ACC) serves as the central connection for students, faculty, staff and visitors. More than an aging structure simply in need of repair, the 100-year-old facility’s historical importance and community significance called for a thoughtful, creative approach to retain its architectural heritage and meet the area’s educational needs.

This project included the collaborative efforts of Texas-based architects at Studio8 and Overland Partners, historic preservationists at Architexas and Hutson|Gallagher, Bartlett Cocke General Contractors, Grand Openings and Kolbe Windows & Doors. Together, they not only met the historical and functional requirements but also helped the project achieve U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification, the highest level of recognition for energy and environmental design.

The renovations include updated classrooms, advanced science and computer labs, new faculty offices, and enhanced student support services. It is also home to the ACC and University of Texas at Austin Path to Admission through Co-Enrollment program, the ACC’s deaf and hard-of-hearing programs, and the Army Futures Command Software Factory.

front of austin community college rio grande campus with Ultra Series windows
Bringing the Community Together

The Rio Grande Campus Main Building is a landmark in Austin. “Everybody knows this campus,” said Studio8 principal, Robert Byrnes, AIA, who has practiced architecture in Texas for nearly 40 years. During the last 12 years, he and Studio8 have teamed with San Antonio-based Overland Partners to lead the design vision on selected projects.

“We’ve had the privilege to work together as true collaborators and design partners on a number of higher ed projects and in other facilities around Central Texas,” said Overland Partners’ president, Adam Bush, AIA.“ As we were doing the design work on it and I was talking to people in the community, almost everybody I talked to said, ‘Oh yeah, I remember taking classes there.’ There have been so many people over the years that have gone through this building,” said Byrnes.

front of austin community college rio grande campus with Ultra Series windows along with inside view of large arch window
The windows had to be as energy efficient as possible, while giving them the look they wanted within their budget

“So much of this campus is about the community,” said Bush. “It's spaces like this that can be a true community asset, a real hub to bring the broader community together to thrive – not just the students and the faculty, but folks who may have come through these doors 50 years ago or someone who lives around the corner.”

Serving Students for a Century

The original three-story T-shaped school was designed by Austin architect Dennis Walsh and built in 1916 by Van Horn-Shaw Construction. At the time, it was praised for its use of modern fire-resistant materials and innovative methods, such as the concrete slabs and beams that allowed the open floorplan. The tall windows illuminated the school’s interior with natural light. The operable awnings provided the building’s air circulation and ventilation.

Old ACC campus photo

A 1925 expansion doubled the building’s initial footprint. This addition was designed by Gieseke & Harris Architects and featured two open-air interior courtyards, helping maintain the natural light and ventilation. After ACC purchased the property in 1975, many of the old windows were replaced, but historic aesthetic and high thermal performance framing and low-e glass were not readily available before the mid-1980s. Plus, to conceal and contain mid-20th century HVAC and electrical systems, the ceilings were dropped down, cutting off the top half of the tall windows.

“This building had sat untouched since the mid-’70s. It needed a lot of attention,” said Byrnes. “There was a lot of investigation to try and figure out what the original looked like and felt like, and then try and replicate that with the new windows systems.”

Revitalizing a “Campus in a Box”

To call the project a “renovation” is a significant understatement, according to Bush. “This was a real transformation to a 21st century learning environment. We had to fit a lot of programs into this building. It really had a function as a ‘campus in a box.’ All the critical functions that you would see on a community college campus reside within this building.”

Byrnes explained, “We couldn't create any more space outside because we couldn't mess with the exterior box. So, everything had to fit within the box. That's where we had to get a little creative on how to approach things.”

student strolls the inside of the large atrium surrounded by Ultra Series historic windows

For example, he highlighted that the two open-air atriums were enclosed to add floorspace. One of the former atriums became the new Student Commons area. The other is a multipurpose room. “Those are two fairly large functions that are difficult to fit anywhere else,” said Byrnes.

In the classrooms, an innovative, low-profile, active chilled beam system was installed to cool the air. Bush said, “It lets us increase our ceiling heights, provide better daylight, better views, and gives us a much more quiet, more comfortable control of the environment inside. We were able to raise the ceilings back to basically almost what they were originally to allow great expansive views out that had been covered up for the past 50 or 60 years.”

Creating a First-Class Learning Environment

Serving students was at the heart of this renovation. “We wanted to create a first-class learning environment where students felt comfortable and good about being in them,” described Byrnes.

students sit in a large classroom surrounded by large wooden Ultra Series windows

Designers of educational spaces once assumed outdoor views led to distractions and detracted from learning. The conventional wisdom today is that the light and sense of space uplift students. “Not only did we recapture the views to the State Capitol of Texas and to our fast-growing downtown skyline,” said Bush. “We were able to create these vistas through the buildings. When you're on one end of the building, you can literally see through to the other end and out to those views.”

“Creating these strong interconnections and visual connections really helps with wayfinding in a big building like this,” he added. “It really creates that sense of community that is so vital.”

Bush continued, “By being able to bring forth the original design of this facility that actually promoted daylight, we brought back something that is so important today. We’re building a building for people and for people to perform at their best, and continue to grow and thrive.”

Designing for Daylight

Critical to the Main Building renovation, Studio8 sought a window system to meet precisely specified performance and historical requirements. Located one mile from the ACC Rio Grande Campus, Grand Openings’ Austin team was among those invited to submit an estimate.

Kolbe’s windows do a fantastic job of not only replicating the original patterns, texture and color, but doing it in a way that helped us meet some very stringent sustainability goals and building performance goals
Grand Openings proposed a solution with Kolbe’s Ultra Series. “The windows had to be as energy efficient as possible, while giving them the look they wanted within their budget,” said Grand Openings’ Bob Petersma. “We worked closely with Kolbe to make it happen.”


side of acc rio grande campus with Ultra series windows

“Kolbe’s windows do a fantastic job of not only replicating the original patterns, texture and color, but doing it in a way that helped us meet some very stringent sustainability goals and building performance goals,” praised Bush.

“It’s a bit challenging in Texas because we want to keep the heat out, but want the light to come in. We were trying to find that balance to get more expansive glazing and get light deeper into the spaces without the heat and the glare,” explained Byrnes.

“We were glad Kolbe was selected for the windows system here,” added Byrnes. “Aluminum-clad wood windows were important because visually they look correct and because there's an energy efficiency to them. This is a big building. ACC is concerned about operating costs. Having something that's very energy efficient was important.”

Improving on the Past with Modern Windows

Meeting the Main Building’s specifications, Kolbe windows paired solar Low-E 366 glass with performance divided lites (PDLs) to simulate the classic grillwork aesthetic of true divided lites while supporting modern energy efficiency.

Kolbe Ultra Series fixed window units were crafted to look like the original, historical, operable windows. Along with the PDLs, an ovolo interior muntin bar profile and glazing bead granted enhanced accuracy. The windows’ extruded aluminum-clad exterior framing with brickmold was finished in a Natural Cotton color 70% fluoropolymer coating, further complementing their resemblance to traditional wood profiles and trim. The finish matches the off-white color determined by the historic preservation team’s research.


side and inside of one of the ACC classrooms featuring large Ultra series windows
Aluminum-clad wood windows were important because visually they look correct and because there's an energy efficiency to them.

Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission needed to review and approve the windows’ color, shape, profile, mullions, muntins, trim and other details. Petersma said, “We were helping bring back the intended look and a better performance. When we submitted the window details and drawings for historical review, they got approved – no problem.”

Finetuning Before Field Installation

Once approved, Grand Openings coordinated phased delivery with Bartlett Cocke General Contractors in six separate shipments sent directly to ACC Rio Grande Campus. Petersma explained that the installation was managed wall by wall.

Because the renovation enclosed two former interior courtyards, windows were installed on inside walls as well as the exterior. The project also unified two structures that were constructed with different methods and materials. Each window was customized to accommodate the varying dimensions, wall thicknesses and anchorage points.
inside the renovation of the inside of the ACC building with rafters throughout and men replacing windows

“This was a very complex project, and a testament to the team for seeing this through many hurdles along the way. It's been a long journey – a bit of a marathon in a sprint, but it's been a very rewarding project,” acknowledged Bush.

He also shared his appreciation for “the real collaboration and team aspect of what we do. It’s not about one individual. It’s about literally hundreds of people and millions of decisions that get made on any particular project. It's just been a real privilege to be a part of a project like this and the entire team.”
Earning Platinum, Staying Green

After five years of construction, the Rio Grande Campus Main Building hosted its re-opening in October 2022. Adding to the celebration, the U.S. Green Building Council certified the Main Campus Building as LEED CI Platinum. This surpassed ACC’s Sustainable Construction College Operations guideline’s minimum LEED Silver benchmark, achieving the highest level of certification. The building also received an Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) 4-star rating.

inside massive main atrium of the campus showcasing rows of large Ultra series windows

Committed to sustainability leadership, ACC has set the goal of attaining Zero Waste by 2040 and achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Its initiatives are designed to shrink the college’s ecological footprint and increase environmental awareness, using less energy and fewer resources, while minimizing waste.

For its environmental and design accomplishments, the project was honored by the Austin Green Awards as 2022 Project of the Year and as 2023 Design Award of Excellence by AIA Austin.

“It’s a great example to show architects who are looking to renovate other historic properties,” said Petersma.

outside of acc rio grande campus showcasing several floors of Ultra Series windows
Aiming for Another 100 Years

“This facility is now going into the second of its 100-plus years in service. We hope that continues to at least another 100 years and beyond,” said Bush.

“Every project has an embedded potential,” Bush continued. “I’d like to think that for this project, the true embedded potential was the first hundred years laying the foundation for us to come in and create something truly transformational for the next hundred years – with respect to the past and a very aspirational look to the future. To do that with such great partners was a real testament to the importance of this project in the community.”


Related Links: Ultra Series