New education center picks Lake Austin for development
The Holdsworth Foundation has selected a scenic 44 acres on Lake Austin to build a world-class institute to train public education leaders across the state.
Charles Butt, chairman and CEO of the H-E-B grocery chain, founded The Holdsworth Center to improve the quality of public education by cultivating its leaders, who in turn are key to teacher development and retention.
Butt has pledged to invest $100 million to establish the center, which is named for his mother, Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt, an educator and philanthropist.
Pending a zoning change, the foundation could break ground in late fall on the project. Foundation officials envision a first-of-its kind training institute aimed at supporting current leaders and developing future superintendents, principals and administrators in Texas’ 1,200 traditional public school districts that some 5.3 million students attend.
The site is near the confluence of Lake Austin and Bull Creek along RM 2222. The land’s features include a wooded hillside, a sloped meadow and a pecan grove. More than half of the 44 acres would remain undeveloped, and 111 heritage trees on the site would be preserved, foundation officials said.
“It was important for us to find a place that was retreat-like in its setting, a restorative place where (educators) could get away and participate fully in the program,” said Kate Rogers, executive vice president of the Holdsworth Center. “This piece of property provides all of that and more.”
The Holdsworth Foundation has a contract to buy the land from the Mueller family trust. Foundation officials declined to disclose what they are paying for the land.
“It is one of the last large undeveloped tracts on Lake Austin and is likely the last one inside Loop 360,” said David Armbrust, the Austin attorney handling the zoning case. The Travis Central Appraisal District puts the site’s value at $13.8 million.
The project would include an administration building; classroom space; a learning center; an international think tank; a director’s residence; and casitas where faculty would stay.
Rogers and Ben Scott, director of real estate for H-E-B, said they do not have an estimate on the project’s total cost.
The property will be developed by the Holdsworth Foundation, using a general contractor, Armbrust said.
Armbrust said the foundation is seeking a type of zoning known as a planned unit development, or PUD, which aims to encourage higher quality development than what could otherwise be built under conventional zoning rules.
Armbrust said using a planned unit development was the “perfect tool” in this case “because there is no other zoning category (in the city code) that allows this particular use.”
“In addition, the PUD provides greater protection for the surrounding neighborhoods from the property being repurposed for another use in the future,” Armbrust said.
Most buildings would be one or two stories, with height capped at 40 feet across the campus, officials said.
Armbrust said the foundation hopes to have City Council approval for the zoning by this fall.
The center will be run by educators and will pull from best leadership training practices in education and the private sector.
More than 3,000 school leaders are expected to go through the program in its first 10 years, starting this summer. While the facility is being built, the program will be housed in hotels and conference centers and rotate among locations near the chosen districts.
So far the proposed project has received favorable feedback from some of its neighbors.
The proposal “to enact Mr. Butt’s vision for a world-class leadership training site” has “our strong support,” Mary Rose, a member of the board of trustees of the Cliff Over Lake Austin Property Owners Association, wrote in a letter to a land consultant with Armbrust’s firm.
“We believe… that it will positively contribute to the reputations of our area, of Austin, and of Texas,” Rose wrote.
Carol Torgrimson, who lives near the proposed site, said she also likes what she has seen of the project.
“Having worked on development issues in the 2222 corridor for over a decade, the biggest concern for most folks in our area is traffic impact,” Torgrimson said. “From that perspective, the Holdsworth Center should be well-received since it would generate very little traffic, certainly far less than other possible uses for the property.”
In addition, she said, “the proposal seems to be very respectful of the city’s environmental regulations.”
“Of course it’s very early in the process, so this is based on preliminary information. As always, the devil is in the details,” Torgrimson said.