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Posted on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 : 4:33 p.m.

Washtenaw Community College leasing classroom space on University of Michigan campus to offer evening classes

By James Dickson

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.

UM Angell Hall PillarMullan.jpg

This fall, Washtenaw Community College is moving some of its night classes to the University of Michigan's Mason Hall.

File photo

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


Alan Benard

Fri, Jul 16, 2010 : 11:48 p.m.

You take a No. 3 Huron River bus from Ann Arbor to WCC. It is fairly direct. But no matter which university is closer, WCC needs to rent space -- enrollment is climbing 10 percent a year and the campus is built out. It is not a crazy question to ask where more WCC students live in the county. It is also not a crazy question to ask what EMU's rental rate is compared to U-M. How come I see reporters responding to questions about stories all the time on this site, but not this one?


Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

Can I just throw in here that the EMU option is interesting, but for many of those near EMU or interested in attending already attend WCC it is not that far away. Where as the people close to U of M don't have the option.It is a greater distance. I could be wrong but I am pretty sure you can catch a direct bus line from the EMU area to WCC. But if you are closer to U of M, it would require some bus switching.

Some Guy in 734

Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 7:57 a.m.

Alan--I have no research to back this up. What I'm about to say is pure speculation and nowt more. I would wager that a fair number of WCC students who live in Ypsilanti (city or township--heck, let's throw in Superior too, just for shiggles) work in Ann Arbor. Even though I pay my bills and lay my head within walking distance from EMU, a hypothetical 5:30 weeknight class at Mason would be a great option for me. A 5:30 weeknight class at Pray-Harrold would not.

Alan Benard

Wed, Jul 14, 2010 : 10:50 p.m.

@Mikey2U: That's nice. But that's not why I'm asking. The logic of using U-M spaces is sound and the justification is that about 10 percent of WCC students live in Ann Arbor. But the justification for using EMU space -- more convenient to Ypsilanti/YT students -- would hold just as well. So, it would be equally nice to have that number. @James: That's nice, but that's not what I asked. I asked for a number of students. I could get that number from the college, but I'm not paid to write news stories for a news Web site whose primary selling point is interactivity with the readership. What's good for Ann Arbor and U-M could be good for Ypsilanti and EMU, so it is nice that you asked the question and then did WCC a favor by not including that information in your story. Because if 3,000 or 7,500 WCC students reside in Ypsilanti and YT, I'd like to know what apart from, oh, relationships or arrangements justifies giving U-M $10,000 for classroom rentals over EMU.Do they not teach this stuff in J school anymore?


Wed, Jul 14, 2010 : 10:24 p.m.

WCC is not just a night school. They also have classes during the day time, but I suspect the main crunch is the late afternoon/evening slots. I happen to lecture at UM and you could bowl in the hallways of Mason Hall until 10am and not bother anybody. So, UM could also lease space at many UM venues, except during UM's peak teaching time (10 - 3) M/W and T/Th. Lots of empty rooms early in the morning, late afternoon, and Fridays. Glad to see the space being used.

James Dickson

Wed, Jul 14, 2010 : 9:05 p.m.

Alan: I asked about EMU. It's not in the plans.


Wed, Jul 14, 2010 : 7:05 p.m.

Alan, Students attend WCC from everywhere. I've attended classes with students from Toledo, OH. Jackson, Detroit and Flint Michigan.

Alan Benard

Wed, Jul 14, 2010 : 6:09 p.m.

Could Mr. Dickson please ask WCC how many of its students live in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township? I wonder if the number is the same or greater than those living in Ann Arbor, and whether or not space is for rent at EMU.I do think this is an excellent idea which solves many problems, particularly student parking issues. It is simply easier to take a bus downtown than to the WCC campus. In this light, WCC's board needs to reconsider its unneccessary and destructive plans to tear down a pine forest to build a multi-story parking garage.

Bob Martel

Wed, Jul 14, 2010 : 3:51 p.m.

This is a great idea! Saves everyone a lot of money and makes better use of an apparently underutilized resource. Three cheers to WCC & U of M for their creative flexibility. I hope that this sets a good example for other similar collaborations among our non-profits. Too often, the first answer is to build something new rather than to be creative with what we already have.