With poll: Washtenaw Community College leasing classroom space on University of Michigan campus to offer evening classes
The University of Michigan has too much classroom space at night.
Washtenaw Community College, experiencing double-digit growth for each of the last three years, has too little.
This fall, WCC will take advantage of U-M's classroom space surplus when it leases four classrooms in Mason Hall for night courses. Mason Hall is part of Angell Hall, which is U-M's main academic building for the College of Literature, Science & the Arts.
WCC will pay $7,965 for use of the classrooms in the fall.
"Both of our institutions want to serve the Washtenaw County area, and this is a great way to do it," said Frances Mueller, project manager at the U-M Space Utilization Initiative founded in February 2007 to address space-use issues.
Most U-M students take classes during the day. But a great deal of WCC students take them at night, which leads to overcrowding on campus.
"The direction we're heading is Ann Arbor," said WCC President Larry Whitworth.
If not for sagging property values, it's entirely possible WCC would have bought land of its own downtown rather than renting it from U-M, he said.
Whitworth said WCC came "very close" to closing on a 30,000-square-foot McKinley-owned property near the Michigan Theater. But in talking with county officials, Whitworth said, WCC learned its budget would be greatly affected by area property values that have fallen "precipitously."
WCC was looking at $3.5 million shortfall for the 2010-2011 academic year, but has balanced its budget, Whitworth said.
Still, "it wasn't a good time to be buying property," Whitworth said.
In the course of studying the McKinley opportunity, WCC learned about 1,500 of its 15,000 students lived within one mile of downtown Ann Arbor. The thinking was if WCC was going to expand anywhere, downtown Ann Arbor would be the smartest bet.
Whitworth said a downtown campus is still a possibility, "two, three, or five years down the road."
For now, the partnership will give WCC more room to breathe and its students exposure to a top university. And U-M will allow WCC students free use of the Thompson Street parking structure on evenings, starting at 5:30 p.m. Another advantage of the U-M space is that it's right off the bus line, Whitworth noted.
Some details are still being finalized - like whether WCC students will have access to U-M computers while on campus - but neither side sees sticking points that would prevent moving forward, officials said.
If all goes well, Whitworth is anticipating the program will continue into winter term and beyond.
James David Dickson can be reached at JamesDickson@AnnArbor.com