Got to Grow - But Where to Go?

Got to Grow - But Where to Go?

The process of stretching out a campus can go smoothly when community concerns are taken to heart.

In terms of expansion planning, University of St. Francis had done everything right. The Catholic institution in Joliet, Ill., got input from city officials and residents. School officials even had the Cathedral Area Preservation Association's (CAPA) support, which was key with the campus falling within that city section.

Gerard Kickul, assistant vice president of Academic and Information Support Services at USF, recalls a resident asking in a public meeting why the university can't just move out and leave the neighborhood alone. Despite plans calling for the demolition of houses, it was a CAPA member who stood to defend USF, explaining what would happen economically if this neighborhood cornerstone were to disappear.

The process of stretching out a campus can go smoothly when community concerns are taken to heart.

Yes, things were looking good. But when plans depend on residents selling their own homes to the school, there's bound to be some nail biting involved. Soon after the local paper ran a story about USF's needs, however, inquiries poured in. "It took us completely by surprise," Kickul says. To date, the university has purchased 28 homes.

 

Many houses of interest in the old Rust Belt city were starter homes. Moving was "a natural progression" for these families, says Tom Mulvey, owner of Dow Realty, which is representing USF in the transactions. Some found other homes in the neighborhood, some left.

One key to the approach was that residents weren't pressured to do anything, Mulvey explains. Yet, a desire to grow was putting pressure on USF, which wants to more than double its number of resident beds to reach 750 in the next 15 years. It's a situation nearly every growing institution of higher ed finds itself in: Where to grow?

After all, even in rural areas, no campus is an island.

More administrators take that point into account these days, but only about half may be putting it into action. According to "Campus Space Crunch," a report released by Hillier Architecture, 56 percent of 200 IHEs surveyed said their school involved the community in planning discussions, such as through open meetings.

While more voices certainly complicate the planning chorus, institutions seeking those voices have been rewarded. Here's how five institutions have made it happen.

When Michael Vinciguerra was named president of University of St. Francis in 2002, he let the community know of the school's desire to truly be part of its neighborhood. "That outstretched arm was very welcome to us," says Kurt Schackmuth, president of CAPA.

A collaboration on USF's master plan for growth was born, with assistance from consultants at Wisconsin-based Performa. City, resident, and university perspectives came together, explains Don Fisher, the city's director of planning and a member of the campus planning committee. Joliet leaders are now adopting complementary policies.

The promise of staying in the neighborhood, rather than moving to a USF-owned site outside the city, was a good-faith gesture. And adding small, landscaped parking areas and the construction of student housing around its current campus will help preserve the feel of the neighborhood. That argument helped earn CAPA's support. It didn't hurt that Schackmuth, who works in the provost's office at nearby Lewis University, understands campus parking dilemmas.

Little things, like students parking in front of neighborhood houses, create a bad image of the school. When schools work on solutions, neighbors are more inclined to be amenable to property acquisition. -Terry Sawyer, Loyola College in Maryland

To help obtain the needed land, USF sent a letter to neighbors, noting that those "interested in being part of the exciting expansion efforts underway" could contact Mulvey's firm.

The school maintained a seller-friendly acquisition approach. Homeowners could hire an appraiser at the university's expense if they needed help determining an asking price, Mulvey says, adding that "the instances where somebody wanted to hit the jackpot because of what the university was doing were few and far between."

With USF paying cash, "sellers never had to worry if the deal was going to die," Mulvey notes. And closings have been at the seller's convenience. CAPA requests have also been granted. Members were troubled by homes facing the wrecking ball. "Parts of the neighborhood will no longer exist in 20 years," Schackmuth says. So when CAPA asked about salvaging materials from homes before demolition, the university opened doors--at least one of which was rescued, along with door hardware, molding, and other pieces common in vintage houses.

Meanwhile, USF continues building on its local relationships, meeting with neighborhood representatives once or twice a year.

When Loyola College in Maryland officials file building permits with the City of Baltimore, they bring along the magic word: Not "please," but a letter expressing neighborhood support for the project.

It's not the result of an 11th-hour sell. Loyola's neighbors are extremely organized--with a dozen associations grouped under an umbrella organization, too. So the institution's formal approach to relations makes sense.

The Catholic college just finished a two-year negotiation to reach its third 10-year agreement with the North Baltimore Neighborhood Coalition. Like past agreements, this one specifies an (audited) enrollment growth cap and support for specific desired capital projects.

 

It also codifies a recent tradition: meet-and-greet pizza parties for neighbors and students in dorms near campus boundaries. At the gatherings, where handshakes often lead to house-painting and baby-sitting jobs, "students realize that these houses behind the residence hall, they're not props. They are real buildings," says Terry Sawyer, Loyola's vice president for Administration. Complaints about these dorms are down, so the gatherings get a thumbs-up from all.

The agreement idea grew out of neighbors presenting a united front in the 80s about the college being insensitive about its growth. "We divested our interest in some properties that the community felt were pivotal to their neighborhoods" and identified off-limits areas for future expansion, says Sawyer, who joined Loyola seven years ago.

That's also when Cindy Leahy moved into the neighborhood. "We're near some high-rise dorms. A student's not going to think anything of calling out to a friend in the parking lot at 1 or 2 a.m., but if you live there and have to get up at 6 a.m.," she notes, it's a problem.

Leahy--who, as president of Keswich Improvement Association, helped on the last 10-year deal--has seen "tremendous improvement" in issues like parking over the years. For one, students can't park on certain streets, Sawyer notes. "It's those little things that create a bad image of the school," he says. "Take some of that stuff away, [and neighbors] are more inclined to be amenable to property acquisition."

Other Baltimore institutions may be missing that point. "Loyola is the only one that we have this type of relationship with," Leahy says.

On the other side of the country, population surges in Los Angeles County's San Gabriel Valley region have meant enrollment growth for Azusa Pacific University. Yet the Christian school has tread lightly with its $550 million-plus building expansion plans--in part because it means altering a Route 66 landmark's landscape.

"Classroom space is maxed out. We're well below what we want in terms of dorm beds," says Mark Dickerson, general counsel for APU. A new science building and renovation projects on both the east and west campuses, located a quarter-mile apart, are also in the works.

Campus and community leaders developed APU's master plan for long-term growth from 1999 to 2002. When Dickerson then came on board, he learned of a big community concern that was nostalgic in nature: What would become of the former Azusa Foothill Drive-In, which Route 66 buffs know as the road's last remaining drive-in west of Oklahoma? The 18.24-acre site, sort of a donut hole between two university-owned parcels, was purchased in 2001 for $6.1 million. Currently used as parking on APU's west campus, the spot is development-ideal.

Neighbors and historic preservation groups were particularly worried about the drive-in's marquee, recognized by the state as a historic resource since 2002. Although discussions were tense at first, the university and preservationists did discover common interests, such as APU's prized collection of historical documents and artifacts. "We started out as adversaries, but we ended up as allies," Dickerson says.

The school agreed to renovate and keep the marquee. Those fighting for the drive-in screen, which had been replaced in recent years, lost their battle, though. One city matriarch in her 80s spoke passionately during a hearing about the not demolishing the screen. "She's one of those ladies you wouldn't want to cross," quips Dickerson, who says that, by the time the official hearings took place, there was little vocal opposition to the plan.

Being neighborly is an institutional value. President Jon Wallace points to the school's community service requirement and the student newspaper's weekly community update as examples.

College-town residents typically breathe a sigh of relief when a local institution plans to grow its campus in a direction away from their own backyards. That's one reason Drury University in Springfield, Mo., lucked out when a piece of property on an edge of campus bordering a commercial area fell into its hands this fall.

Five years ago, the landlocked school made a 10-year partnership agreement with the Midtown Neighborhood Association to not cross a designed line for development without the association's approval.

With limited expansion opportunities in the residential neighborhoods north and east of the campus--and plans to increase enrollment from 1,600 to 1,800 by decade's-end--heading in another direction made the most sense. To the west are institutional neighbors; an industrial area with century-old Tindle Mills lies to the south.

Thanks to an 8.1-acre land donation, Drury can stretch southward and have a 10 percent larger campus. Rusty Worley, vice president of Administration (and owner of a renovated former frat house near campus) helped Tindle's parent, Archer Daniels Midland, learn of the tax credits such a donation would secure.

The property's five buildings may provide classroom, office, studio, and lab facilities, with land saved for parking and green space. Faculty of Drury's architecture school are especially excited about helping to incorporate the land and buildings into the campus, says President John Sellars. A public park with convention center borders the property, and a wellness trail will link four Springfield higher ed institutions.

Ozarks Technical Community College is one of them. At one point, the school was looking to share the mill's land with Drury--except "the really nice part of the property was on Drury's side," and as a public school, Ozarks would have been hindered by restrictions on the deal, says President Norman Myers. So the school bowed out and is now focusing on building its own new campus, 23 miles away.

"I think it's a win-win for everybody," Sellars says, adding that the project has enhanced school-community dialogue. "The overwhelming support we're getting ... is really edifying. It suggests that as we do the development we'll have a lot of people with us."

Brown University in Providence is also eyeing industrial areas for expansion--yet not right next door.

In the past, Brown counted on historic areas nearest to its College Hill neighborhood home for expansion. But converting an older house isn't always ideal. Frances Halsband of R.M. Kliment & Frances Halsband Architects, who was hired in 2002 to analyze Brown's physical plan, says space in one of these stately homes might look like this: "Professors would sit in the living room, graduate students would be in the attic, and the Xerox machine was in the bathtub."

Richard Spies, vice president for Planning at Brown (who won't confirm that copy machine image), acknowledges space is tight. Despite having, say, 3,000 square feet, adding wheelchair accessibility and other requirements means "you've got only a few square feet available for programs, and you haven't necessarily done the house justice either."

Spies is realistic, too, about resident worries that Brown will surround them or buy and demolish their homes. Resistance to building projects, plus Brown's academic enrichment blueprint (which included the need to create 100 more faculty positions) led to Halsband's hire.

Her observation was especially tough to absorb: "Your neighbors are really right. If you keep building in the neighborhood, you will destroy its very fabric," she reported. But what to do? "Build inward, rather than outward," for one, Spies says. Halsband saw potential for another million-plus square feet of space on the core campus.

Better circulation infrastructure, including improved shuttle service between the core campus and a few isolated downtown offices, would also behoove Brown. A deal between Brown and Rhode Island School of Design, already with similar shuttle schedules, made sense. And speaking of downtown, its jewelry district section--an old manufacturing area with lofts, some now converted into offices and condos--already had a Brown science lab. The area will have more available ground in the next several years, too, as a piece of highway is relocated in the city.

Halsband's advice was accepted by Brown trustees in 2003. To speed efforts, alumna Rebecca Barnes was hired as director of strategic growth this summer. She's learned that "everyone shares an interest in the area becoming more lively, and that means there must be residents," she says. Grad student and faculty residents would be most welcome.

Barnes also helps acquire buildings elsewhere. Areas close to campus are preferred, but "we have to keep our options open," Spies says.

He believes Brown's plans have "really expanded the definition of neighborhood. ... We're talking more to the hospitals, the city, and the state as potential partners."

As St. Francis, Loyola, Azusa Pacific, Drury, and Brown officials know, befriending the community takes time. And the relationships involve action, not just talk.

For Drury, that has meant providing extra police patrols on weekends and school district partnerships. "We're not just trying to court their favor to get the next new parking lot," Worley says.

"More important than the buildings is what we do with the community and our students inside and around them," adds APU's Dickerson. That requires active listening, notes his boss. Wallace says it's crucial to have a university person dedicated to community concerns. "The issue isn't growth of the campus. The issue is how to be a good neighbor."


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