Joe Wyatt
Published November 3, 2021

Major developments are apparent across the Amarillo College landscape as no fewer than six large-scale building renovations and/or infrastructure upgrades are currently in various stages of progression.

Those six projects, four of which are on the Washington Street Campus, comprise Phase I of a three-phase, multi-year master plan empowered by Amarillo voters’ passage of an $89.2 million bond referendum in 2019.

The Phase I projects are:

  • College Union Building renovation and relocation of the Art Department
  • Renovation of the Carter Fitness Center to house Athletics Department
  • Renovation of Russell Hall to accommodate a student-services hub
  • Remodeling Downtown Campus to accommodate Innovation Outpost
  • Remodeling old J.C. Penney Building to create a First Responders Academy at Sunset Center
  • Installation of four new water-cooled chillers to power HVAC infrastructure on the Washington Street Campus

The entirety of AC’s master plan has been unavoidably delayed by the pandemic, and by shortages wrought by disruptions to the global supply chain; however, all six projects are now moving forward, and one is already nearly complete.

“We lost about eight months to COVID, but now we are gaining momentum across the board,” Chris Sharp, vice president of business affairs, said. “We’re back on track and our excitement is building.

“Of course, we know we’ll all be inconvenienced over the next year or more. We ask our students, faculty and staff, even our visitors, to be patient during these renovations. Temporary department relocations and fluctuating parking patterns are an unavoidable part of the process,” he said, “but when the dust finally settles, our community will have a great deal to be especially proud of at AC.”

The first satisfying accomplishment will soon be evident at the College Union Building (CUB), which is close enough to completion that the AC Bookstore and café, which had been temporarily displaced by the renovations, are in the process of moving back into the facility’s first floor. The expansive new space will not only allow for broadening of the Bookstore’s inventory, but a new kitchen will enable the café to offer a new line of affordable menu items.

Meanwhile, the CUB basement, formerly home to Student Life, is nearly complete and sometime in November will become the new home of the Art Department, which is moving from its longtime location in Russell Hall. The new digs contain contemporary classrooms and offices, and a sublevel patio to accommodate kilns used in the pottery process. (Student Life is temporarily housed in Byrd Business Building and will move into new quarters in Phase II.)

Also, in November, once the Art Department has fully exited the facility, the process of renovating Russell Hall will begin in earnest. The remodel, designed by architects at Dekker, Perich & Sabatini, and being spearheaded by Western Builders, will transform Russell Hall into a new Enrollment Center.

It will contain all the student services – from Financial Aid and Testing Services to Academic Advising and Disability Services – necessary to constitute a one-stop shop for student intake.

“We want this to serve as the ‘front door’ of our College,” Sharp said. “It will give us an amazing customer-oriented setting in which everything students need to get started at AC is in one convenient location. It will be a great resource for our community.” The project should take about a year to complete, he said.

The Russell Hall project is directly across 24th Street from another major undertaking, one that began in October – a thorough renovation of Carter Fitness Center. This is an $11.3 million effort designed to meet both the College’s physical fitness needs and its return to the realm of competitive intercollegiate athletics.

Western Builders is overseeing this project, too, and Sharp anticipates it will be ready in time for the fall 2022 volleyball season.

Rounding out the Phase I projects on the Washington Street Campus is a major upgrade to the chiller plant that powers the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) throughout the campus. Four new water-cooled chillers will be installed in the parking lot between the Science Lab Building and the Amarillo Museum of Art, replacing the 35-year-old system located beneath Parcells Hall. This is an infrastructure project that has just begun.

Phase I projects ongoing elsewhere are to establish an Innovation Outpost and the First Responders Academy.

The Innovation Outpost, a state-of-the art career accelerator and collaboration facility for industry and business, will anchor AC’s Downtown Campus. The major renovation there covers 31,715 square feet and should be completed sometime next summer, Sharp said.

Work on the First Responders Academy, to be located in the old J.C. Penney Building at Sunset Center (purchased by AC in 2021) began with asbestos abatement and demolition, which will be completed in a couple of weeks. General construction is expected to begin this spring and take a little over a year. Once completed, the 100,000-square-foot Academy will serve as the new home to AC’s programs in Fire Protection Technology and Emergency Medical Services Professions, as well as the Law Enforcement Academy.

“Our emergency services programs are currently spread out over multiple campuses and bringing them together under one roof has been something we’ve been striving to do for a while,” Sharp said. “This will be a state-of-the art facility where we can optimally train the first responders who will serve communities throughout the Texas Panhandle and beyond for generations to come.”