This article originally appeared on SMPS Boston’s website.
by Ken Lambert
Very possibly in the coming months, a smart A&D firm will be publishing a design guide such as the one by Lambert & Coady Design Associates, LLC, with practical guidance on what to do with buildings and grounds of defunct college and university campuses. This particular one is fictitious – so far. I have conducted a few Google searches for an existing and “real” post-college campus design guide and have come up empty.
News and opinions abound regarding the state of higher education, and its imminent future. Unfortunately, many of the stories are not very promising.
Temple University CFO, Ken Kaiser, was recently interviewed by Yahoo Finance, and he believes that much smaller, private colleges and universities will be forced to close in the near and not-so-distant future.
“Consolidation is certainly likely,” Kaiser stated, while mentioning that first it will be the private schools but then even some public universities may be forced to shutter some campuses and consolidate operations.
It is important to remember that not all of their financial problems are because of COVID-19.
In rural Poultney, Vt., Green Mountain College had shut its doors in May 2019, after commencement. As of mid-July 2020, it is set to be listed with a real estate auction shortly.
Sophia Vincenza Milkowski graduated two years ago from GMC and remained to live and work in the community.
“We’re still trying to figure out what Poultney even is now without it there,” she said during a break from work. “We’re all feeling its absence, whether we were a part of the college or not.”
Another example is the former AIB College of Business in Des Moines, Iowa. Much of the current campus is now being used by an NBA Development League team, and other sections and buildings have been parceled out as follows:
- A private developer is building high-end condominiums.
- Three buildings were bought by one developer who plans to lease space to individual office users.
- The plan for the administration building is to adapt it to another business and lease the remainder to other office users. The 35,000sf white building has views of downtown Des Moines.
Other options for former campuses might be: senior living, assisted living facilities, technical/vocational schools, STEM programs (including coding), state/county governmental departments, studio/ efficiency apartments, etc.
Of course, no one is hoping that colleges have to close their doors; that is not ideal for anyone. However, the truth is that adaptive re-use and redevelopment is always a key part of real estate, of the economy, and of society in general. This country has had several widespread examples of this fact over the past 30 years.
Mill buildings that were active and dotted the landscape 100 years ago were reconfigured into offices or apartments/condos. More recently over the past 5-8 years, we have seen malls that were jam-packed 25 years ago be renovated into condos, apartments, warehouses/distribution, gyms, and indoor mini-golf courses.
There are several short-term negatives with any redevelopment process, but design firms and developers who think outside of the box and stay proactive can be quite successful. I wonder how many college board of trustees members saw the article title and picture only, and have tried to contact Lambert & Coady already.
Ken Lambert is a director of industry development and technical services at the International Masonry Institute.