Work on $7.8 million Cameron Hall gets MCC approval

Work on a new $7.8 million Cameron Hall got a green light this week to go ahead with McLennan Community College trustees approving a $5 million construction contract.

The project will build a new MCC Foundation headquarters on the site of the 102-year-old Cameron House at MCC while renovating and retaining the house’s courtyard.

A higher than anticipated price tag for the project had delayed contract approval for several months as planners redesigned the building to lower costs. The reworked design eliminates a planned conference room and lounge on the east side, substitutes wood structures for some metal and steel ones, revamps an entry ceiling and leaves a basement unfinished.

Trustees voted unanimously during a meeting Monday to approve a $4,999,164 contract with HCS Inc. to build the new structure. Also bidding on the project were John W. Erwin General Contractor Inc. and Mazanec Construction Co. The contract does not cover courtyard renovation, landscaping or furnishings, which, with a $700,000 contingency fund, will add more than $2.5 million to the project cost.

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The 101-year old Cameron House on the edge of Waco’s McLennan Community College campus may be in its final days.

Approximately $3 million has been raised in private donations, with another $1.2 million approved from the city of Waco’s Tax Increment Financing Zone No. 4, but MCC would still be about $807,000 short in covering the cost of the construction contract, said Stephen Benson, the college’s vice president for finance and administration. To close the gap, Benson intends to submit the amended project budget to the TIF board for consideration of additional funding, he told the MCC board. The initial TIF grant covered roughly 20% of the original budget, and a similar percentage for the larger amended budget could add an extra $351,000 in TIF funding if the city approves, he said.

The college will draw on its budget reserves to cover the gap, and continued fundraising for the Cameron Hall project is expected to bring in more, Benson said.

Construction of Cameron Hall is expected to take roughly a year with demolition of the existing Cameron House expected in the next few weeks. Items of historic value still in the house will be removed before its destruction.

Old Art Center MCC (copy)

The Cameron House, perched on a hill at MCC, is slated to be demolished soon.

The three-story Cameron House, the summer home of the William Waldo Cameron family built in 1921, has been a part of the MCC campus for most of the college’s lifetime. For more than 40 years, MCC leased the house to Art Center Waco, providing space for art exhibitions and education as well as community and social events.

Structural problems discovered in 2017, however, made the building hazardous, and the arts organization moved out of its longtime home. Art Center Waco renovated a former downtown child care center and opened that location as its new home in 2021.

MCC President Johnette McKown, then-MCC Foundation director Kim Patterson and other MCC administrators initially considered repairing the house for foundation and community uses, as the foundation, which raises money for MCC student scholarships, professional development and capital improvements, had outgrown its current MCC offices.

That idea was shelved after cost projections for renovation soared far above an initial estimate of $4 million. Waco philanthropist Clifton Robinson, who had pledged $2.5 million for the renovation project, and his son Gordon then suggested construction of a new building on the site after demolishing the house.

Waco architects RBDR designed the new building, to be named Cameron Hall, as a single-story structure resembling the past Cameron House, with offices, a multipurpose central great room and a courtyard, with restrooms and catering kitchen space for foundation and community events and rentals. The cost of that building was initially estimated at $6 million, but when bids for its construction all exceeded that figure, the design was retooled to save money.

McKown thanked MCC trustees after their decision to approve the Cameron Hall construction contract, acknowledging the years of work and planning behind the project.