On the morning of Tuesday Oct. 11, archaeologist Mark Luzmoor of Raba-Kistner, field technician Cyndi Dickey, and backhoe operator Dean Hillman set out to the site that will soon become the Alamo Colleges’ new headquarters with one specific goal: to dig up remains of an acequia that once nourished crops for Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo.

Prior to beginning construction on the educational facility, which will consolidate Alamo Colleges’ 465 district support operations employees who are currently spread across multiple buildings and sites, the State mandated an archaeological site survey. Luzmoor and his colleagues are in charge of the survey.

The acequia was identified when Luzmoor and fellow researchers examined a 1938 aerial photograph that revealed a dense tree line that started on the property and led south toward the Alamo. The photograph was taken prior the construction of Playland Park, for which the trees were cleared so the land could become a parking lot for the amusement park. Playland Park officially opened in 1943 and ceased operations on Labor Day in 1980.

In September 2015, it was revealed that Alamo Colleges would be taking over the lot that sat vacant for more than 35 years. In July 2016, plans were released to the public.

Luzmoor and his team dug a total of four trenches over the course of two days. The first dig site, which is believed to have been the beginning of the acequia, was the only successful attempt in finding evidence. Additional research of historical maps from the late 1700s confirmed that the acequia found was, in fact, the acequia leading to Mission San Antonio de Valero.

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A handheld GPS unit is held by Project Archaeologist Mark Luzmoor to help determine the initial dig location. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and taking into consideration a small margin of error, Luzmoor and his team were able to identify the approximate location of the acequia and verified the dig site on a handheld GPS device.

Once the location was established, the large “extendahoe” operated by Hillman began carving away at the flat grassy landscape, creating a strip about 32 inches wide. Four hours in and about five feet deep, Luzmoor and his team discovered small pieces of acequia remnants, mixed in with the soil and limestone in the earth.

A storm drain that was reported to be in the vicinity was never located.

Alamo Colleges and the architects of ford, powell & carson – the team commissioned with the design of the new headquarters alongside WestEast Design Group and landscape architects Rialto Studio – will receive Luzmoor’s survey of the findings in late October or early November.

Alamo Colleges Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Management and Construction Operations John Strybos informed the Rivard Report that a meeting between Alamo Colleges representatives and architects specifically pertaining to the acequia findings has not taken place yet.

“We’ve always known (the acequia) was there,” Strybos said, “and we’ve always planned on incorporating it into our development.

“The layout for the building accommodates where we thought it was going to be, and now I think we have a better idea of where it is. We’ll know exactly where the buildings need to be so we are not in conflict.”

Alamo Colleges revised Option B site plan rendering. Courtesy of ford, powell & carson and WestEast Design Group. (click to enlarge)
Alamo Colleges revised Option B conceptual site renderings. Courtesy of ford, powell & carson and WestEast Design Group. (click to enlarge)

Since the study, no change in site plans are currently in store for the facility, any changes will be identified after meetings between Alamo Colleges and project architects occur.

Awaiting the findings from the dig and study, Alamo Colleges and the architectural team have yet to disclose site plans for the facility. Potential changes and updates will be identified after meetings between Alamo Colleges and project architects.

When the Rivard Report asked him how the public would be able to identify the acequia, Strybos responded: “After we build our buildings I’m certain we will have some way (for) people walking along (to) know that’s where the acequia was. We haven’t figured out how we will do that yet.

“I’m pretty sure we won’t build something over it,” he added.

Scott Ball

Scott Ball

Scott Ball is the Rivard Report's photo editor and a native San Antonian.