On Saturday night, while mayoral candidates sweated out their chances to leap into the runoff, the direction of the Dallas County Community College District’s major bond proposal became quickly apparent. A resounding 71.5 percent of voters elected to grant DCCCD a $1.1 billion bond. The money will go to revamp facilities and boost programs of need, and the biggest slice is this: the district plans to spend $535 million to build a “Dallas Education and Innovation Hub,” which would include a new downtown Dallas El Centro College campus.
Remember “Amazon U,” the proposed campus behind City Hall that Dallas included in its bid to Amazon, promising a talent pipeline for the retailer? DCCCD was a part of that collaborative plan, which also would’ve included several four-year universities. And with the Innovation Hub, there are similarities. “That didn’t happen,” DCCCD Chancellor Dr. Joe May said Monday, “but we still believe very strongly that what we need is an active, robust spectrum of learning opportunities.”
DCCCD still wants to engage some of those same four-year universities. It wants to make more accessible the services that spring forward from its programs, like dental hygiene and the culinary arts. It also wants to find the right third party to bring student housing downtown. “We don’t want to build it. We don’t want to own it,” he says. “But we’d love to partner with someone on that.”
There will be significant challenges. Although May says the district is committed to the urban core, it’s unable to use most of its existing office buildings because of the way they’re built. Colleges pass thousands of kids through the halls, elevators, and stairways in 10-minute increments between classes. Office buildings only have so many elevators and so much stairwell space.
To be clear, however, even though the district now has the funding to pursue such a project, it hasn’t made final decisions about the path forward. They are exploring options for a location; May wouldn’t say where, but they’re already looking at a few. It will also need to be designed. And several other questions remain unanswered, including what will happen to DCCCD’s current El Centro campus in downtown’s West End, serving about 12,000 students. The Board of Trustees will wrestle with such topics at its monthly meeting in June. The district will eventually ask for proposals, which is when a more definitive plan will start to take shape.
But May says—and voters seem to agree—that the district is growing fast enough to justify the new space. From fall 2013 to fall 2018, enrollment grew by 13 percent, from 73,206 students to 82,800. The district projects 92,000 students by 2030, and it hasn’t asked voters for money since 2004. The growth, May says, comes in large part from increased partnerships with area high schools, many of which now allow students to earn DCCCD credit while still in high school. The district also works with local employers to specifically target programs to the area’s needs. That’s led them to expand in healthcare, IT, advanced manufacturing, hospitality, and finance. But those shift quickly, and the new campus will need to be adaptable.
“We’re looking at the building creating a flexible environment that we can adapt as we need to make changes in the programs to best fit the needs here,” says May.