Separate But Equal

Co-located campuses, where different colleges share one site, don’t exactly boast a tremendous success rate. Yet two Washington schools chose to plunge headfirst into these treacherous waters and managed to come up swimmingly. What is the secret to their success, and could co-located campuses become a trend for new schools?

While not quite the Odd Couple, University of Washington Bothell (UWB) and Cascadia Community College remain very different in their history, student body and educational mission. UWB opened in 1990 and operated out of a business park in answer to the University of Washington’s desperate need for a campus on Seattle’s East Side. Serving upper level and graduate students only, UWB’s population is mostly made up of “older students who interrupted their schooling for one reason or another and now want to finish,” according to Bill Kelleher, vice chancellor of Administrative Services at UWB. “In fact, 80 percent of our students work full time.”

Cascadia caters to a different group. As a brand new institution set up by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Cascadia is designed for students just starting their college experience. They offer open enrollment with programs that support academic transfer, occupational training, remedial education and other community services. “Our students are younger and have different expectations and maturity levels,” says Dee Sliney, director of Auxiliary Services for Cascadia.

The Right Site?

What they had in common, however, was their need for land. Just 12 miles northeast of Seattle, both schools really came about as an answer to the city’s fast growth and resulting traffic crush. With few educational opportunities to serve the eastside’s employed and commuter population, students either had to make the long, slow drive into town or do without. When both schools started searching for a site in the same area at the same time, Washington’s political and educational leaders recognized the enormous capital cost savings and benefits of building one campus instead of two.

UWB, however, was not entirely keen on the idea. Already in operation, the school had a different site picked out. “The area they had chosen had a big problem as it was outside of the Urban Growth Boundary,” remembers James Reed, associate director of the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board. “Plus the administration at the time was reluctant about co-locating with a community college.”

UWB was also skeptical about the viability of the location that the Higher Education Coordinating Board chose. While easily accessible and highly visible, the 128-acre site was fraught with problems. Located on an environmentally sensitive wetland, the former Truly Farm had, what Reed calls, “a long and litigious history. The owner wanted to develop the plot into a shopping center, and environmental groups were suing.”

To top it off, the townspeople of Bothell were not in love with the idea of an eventual 10,000 full-time students commuting in and out of the area.

The Right Players

Despite all of the problems, in 1994 the State of Washington decided to proceed with the risky plan of co-locating the two schools. To ease the way, state officials formed the Project Coordination Team, which included the two schools, the Higher Education Coordinated Board (HECB) and other policy makers. In addition, a Site Advisory Group, made up of regional experts, Bothell residents and local officials, had a say in how the campus would fit into its challenging site. All worked closely with the planning and architecture firm NBBJ. Because of the unique arrangement, the HECB transferred project management from the University of Washington to the Office of General Administration.

UWB, however, still dragged its heels, until a change of administration brought about a change of attitude. After a drawn-out permitting process, which ended with the state finally buying the property out of foreclosure, the site was secured. “During one of the master plan hearings, the examiner, who is also a judge, said he never saw a project with as much broad-based support as this one,” remembers Reed.

With all parties well represented and in concert, the players still had to overcome the spotty success rate of co-located schools. To avoid stepping in others’ pitfalls, the HECB held a large, formal symposium with co-located schools from six other states to find out which ideas work and which do not. “The biggest complaint was a lack of identity for either institution,” remembers Bill Sanford, principal in charge, NBBJ.

Other problems included: neither institution having its own governing body, so all decisions had to be run back to the respective main campuses and, most importantly, not having a joint operating agreement upfront. “The schools were feeling their way as they went,” says Reed. “They didn’t make it clear who would pay for what and who would run what until the schools were actually open.”

Lessons Learned

After some 10 years of planning, permitting and construction, the $110-million campus opened in the fall of 2000. While the site lost six acres of sensitive wetland in the construction process, the schools restored 58 acres of ecosystem, the largest restoration in the Northwest. NBBJ also tread lightly among the hillside’s old-growth cedar trees and natural flora.

Hugging the hillside, the campus buildings run parallel to site contours, forming a linear string of structures connected by a main pedestrian promenade. UWB’s parking and two buildings are entered from the south side, while Cascadia takes the north. “There is a clear front door for both schools,” says Sanford. In the middle rests the shared library and eventual food and copy services. The campus’ physical layout and look caters to the diverse student body of both schools. The simple wayfinding directs the flow. “After a few days both groups mix freely,” says Sanford.

But a beautiful site and well-thought-out architecture does not guarantee success. A co-location agreement was first hammered out in 1995 and reaffirmed in 2000. The document includes a Core Agreement, which outlines areas of anticipated cooperation, as well as financial and service agreements that the university provides and is reimbursed for by Cascadia. This includes physical plant services like custodial, maintenance, grounds and utilities, as well as academic support like the library and media services. “We have access to a first-rate library and technical equipment that a community college would not ordinarily have,” says Sliney.

Also included are third-party agreements where services are provided to Cascadia or UWB by an outside source. This includes parking and food services. Cascadia also has separate agreements with UW Seattle to provide telephone and computing network support so both schools are on the same service. The university bookstore provides services to both institutions as an independent retailer, and there is an agreement between the schools regarding lease revenues.

The use of space is also defined. There is dedicated space for academic and administrative use like faculty and staff offices, most classrooms and some labs. There is also shared space that is accessible equally to each institution and must be coordinated between the two schools, such as selected science labs. And, of course, there are the common spaces not assigned to either institution like the library, parking facilities and grounds. “The two schools are knuckled nicely together on the site, joined by these common areas,” remarks Sanford.

Ultimately, what makes the coupling of UWB and Cascadia so successful is what makes any marriage successful: communication. “We have our own flavor and administrative structure but, because we talk and e-mail constantly, the relationship works,” says Sliney. Cynthia Scanlon, director of marketing and communications for UWB, agrees, “Most positions at one school have a counterpart at the other,” she says. “There are no egos or power plays between us. We are both focused on our missions and our students.”

With their first-year enrollment expectations met and growing, UWB and Cascadia seem on track to meet their headcount goals quickly. And with both schools happy with the campus and the arrangement, it seems that, in this case, co-location works. But is it a trend whose time has come or just a lucky accident? “I am presently working on a co-located campus of Idaho and Idaho State in downtown Boise,” says Sanford. “The trick is not to do too much too soon. Patience and understanding on both sides builds momentum and eventually pays off.”