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Business Officer Magazine
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Renovation and Revival

As a downtown campus, King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, wanted to make sure that maintaining or upgrading appearances was part of its updated campus master plan. The college establishes public and private partnerships to develop and renovate blighted buildings in the area.

By Apryl Motley

Lisa Marie McCauley knows all too well the importance of keeping up appearances on campus.  “Three years ago, there were quite a few boarded-up buildings in the vicinity of our campus,” she recalls. “Many of them had been vacant since the '90s. It was a blighted area. Students and employees were afraid to walk from the parking lot past these buildings. Several parents spoke to the president: 'There was no way that I was sending my child here.'”

Amidst these concerns, the Rev. Thomas J. O'Hara, former president, began leading King College's effort to revive the area and present a better image of the institution. “We take what space is available in the surrounding area and determine if we can use the facility as is, refurbish it, or demolish it,” McCauley explains.

The construction on Thomas J. O'Hara Hall (originally called Gateway Corners), which began in the summer of 2008 and was completed just 16 months later in August 2009, is an excellent example of the last approach. “The land was obtained through an agreement between two community-development corporations and leased by a developer that demolished the existing structures located at that site: two blighted buildings, a laundry and dry cleaning business, and a printing business,” McCauley says.

These buildings were replaced by a four-story, 95,000-square-foot multipurpose facility that houses more than 160 apartment-style suites, offices for the college's education faculty, state-of-the-art classrooms, a public day-care facility for up to 140 children, and a public restaurant called Leo's on Mane. The $20 million project was completed through a partnership among the college; Kinship Square, a nonprofit community-development corporation; and Radnor Property Group.

It was against this backdrop that work began on updating King College's 10-year-old master plan. (Read more about infrastructure planning in the article “Inner Spaces” in the February 2012 issue of Business Officer.) “Initially, we held several focus groups to get input on the new plan,” McCauley says. “These groups included dining and custodial staff, students, faculty, and other staff.”

In addition, a steering committee of faculty and senior administrators, co-chaired by McCauley, was formed to provide broad perspective as the plan took shape. The plan was presented to and approved by the college's board. Then, presentations were made to announce the plan to the campus community.

While the steering committee no longer meets, the plan will be discussed every year at the senior staff retreat with the college's president as well as at the three board meetings held annually. “We will revisit the plan [informally] and review our priorities,” McCauley says. Her objective is for the next formal update and review of the plan to take place in the spring.

Campus of the Future

It took almost two years to complete the plan, which has as its primary objective to guide changes to the campus to ensure that the facilities are available and of sufficient high standard to achieve the goals outlined in “A Shared Commitment to Changing Students' Lives: A Strategic Plan for King's College 2008-2013.” The master plan offers a glimpse at “the future campus [by 2021] with buildings, green spaces, linkages, and support facilities positioned to create a community that fits into the urban context of the city.”

At the same time, it outlines existing conditions on campus, which have changed significantly since the development of the previous plan a decade ago when the campus was contained within a four-block area. With the addition of three major buildings between 2008 and 2010, the campus is quickly expanding to six blocks.

With this in mind, the steering committee, along with Quad3 and LandConcepts Group, the two outside firms that assisted with the development of the plan, narrowed a list of issues and needs to identify those campus improvements that would best meet the college's anticipated needs and financial resources. This group then divided the resulting list of an estimated $48 million in proposed campus improvements into three categories. With a few exceptions, Priority 1, 2, and 3 campus improvements are primarily renovations and recycling of buildings to accommodate different and greater use.

One of the exceptions is the addition of a 34,000-square-foot auxiliary gym to the college's existing gym because current student demand for the space exceeds available facilities.  “We received a grant from the state for development,” McCauley says, “and we worked with the city to vacate a street, which was actually an alley behind our gym, so that the two facilities would be connected.” In addition, King's College now owns all the property on that block except one house.

The college's approach to infrastructure planning has meant McCauley has expanded her role as vice president for business affairs to include real estate developer and construction manager. “From a small-college perspective, I'm trying to do the rest of my job as well, but I love the challenge.”

As the college continues to purchase local properties in accordance with the master plan, she regularly receives calls about potential properties and evaluates the feasibility of the college purchasing them. In one area, King's purchased 9 houses from individual owners and would like to purchase another 12.

“Usually, the neighborhood becomes aware that King's is buying property in the area,” McCauley explains. “If a property is in our geographic scope and meets our fiscal guidelines, we will purchase it. It's better off in our hands than in others.

“We don't want blighted or derelict properties in our areas,” she continues. “We want students to feel safe on campus. I live our master plan every day based on fulfilling our vision of being a dynamic, learning-centered community.”

For more information on matching facilities planning and mission, see “Inner Spaces,” in the February 2012 issue of Business Officer.

APRYL MOTLEY, Columbia, Maryland, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.