Community College at the Local Mall? Some Schools Say Cha-Ching

Community College at the Local Mall? Some Schools Say Cha-Ching
Community colleges across the country that are adding classrooms in local malls. Learn about how the practice is advantageous to both the schools and struggling shopping centers.
Heading to class and heading to the mall may sound like two very different adventures, but a few community colleges across the country are merging the two into a single trek that is advantageous to everyone involved. Mall space is often an economical alternative for community college expansion, providing necessary space in a convenient location for students. We have a number of community colleges nationwide that are taking classes to the mall during upcoming school years.
Renovation Plans Send Displaced Students into Retail Space

Austin Community College in Texas has big plans for its students over the next few years, as the campus plans for major expansion in hopes of meeting future enrollment projections. However, as the campus undergoes the upheaval typical of construction projects, many feared that a student cutback would be necessary until the expansion was complete. Fortunately for Austin, that problem was easily solved by purchasing “swing space” at a nearby mall.

According to a report at Community Impact Newspaper, the college plans to buy former Dillard’s and Macy’s buildings at the Highland Mall until the campus expansion plan is complete. The renovations of the mall property will be funded by bonds from a 2013 or 2014 election and will provide additional space to Austin Community College for the next 12 years.
This is not the only mall purchase the college has made recently. According to a report at the Austinist, the college also purchased 173 acres, including the former J.C. Penney building, for $15.7 million. Last year, the school bought 18.5 acres, consisting of the former Dillard’s and parking area, and early this year they purchased additional space. At this time, the college owns 100 percent of the former Highline Mall that will now become an extension of the Austin campus. 
“We are analyzing the [mall] property we have and will close on,” Neil Vickers, associate vice president of finance and budget, told Community Impact. “We are moving ahead with programming, identifying what types of spaces we can provide and consolidating administrative offices.” Vickers added, “That’s going to take into early next year, beginning with a design process and renovation next steps.”
The ability to acquire swing space is an important factor in the success of Austin’s expansion plans overall. Moving to and from swing spaces is planned for summer breaks, so there will be no disruption in the regular academic years for students and staff.
“Using the mall and temporary campuses, we can move instructions and all functions at a part of a campus there…while we upgrade facilities,” Bill Mullane, ACC’s executive director of facilities and construction, told Community Impact. “If we are able to do that sequentially over the next 10 to 14 years, we can all get our campuses where they need to be.”
Des Moines Community College Opening New Campus at Southridge Mall
A struggling shopping center in the Des Moines area may get a shot in the arm with the addition of a new campus for Des Moines Community College. According to a report in the Des Moines Register, the school is eyeing the former J.C. Penney building at Southridge for additional classroom space and programs. The school is being actively courted by Des Moines City Council members who are looking for a way to revitalize the Southridge area.
“We’ve been working really hard to make this fit, and I think it has a good shot at happening,” Councilman Brian Meyer told the Register. “The area needs a spark, and I am hoping this will be a perfect fit.”
City leaders in Des Moines have suggested they would be willing to offer incentives for anyone who wanted to purchase the mall space. They made similar offers with Merle Hay Mall three years ago, when they allowed owners to use tax revenue to renovate the space and make it more conducive to shopping. Although a firm timeline has yet to be set with the community college, council members are confident the deal between Southridge and Des Moines Community College will be a beneficial one for everyone involved.
“We look at this as a huge opportunity to begin the conversion of Southridge Mall into a hub for the south side of Des Moines,” Scott McMurray, a representative of the company that owns Southridge, told the Register. “We think it is important to have educational, public, residential, retail and entertainment uses all on that site.”
Schools Moving into Cobb Center Mall in Smyrna
Cobb Center used to be the shopping hub in Smyrna, Georgia, as one of the first malls to grace the area. However, changes over the decades since the mall opened has left the space struggling to find enough tenants to survive. The Smyrna-Vinings Patch reports that one solution the mall has found is to allow schools to purchase the space for classrooms and other purposes. The newest potential tenant to eye the retail space is Georgia Highlands College, a two-year, associate-degree school that currently boasts six sites around Georgia.  
Georgia Highlands College is currently going through the process with the local city council, getting necessary zoning and approval to move ahead with their plans. The college has been around for more than 40 years, while the mall boasts a full 48-year history with the community. 
Schools and malls seem to be finding a harmonious relationship across the country, with more cash-strapped colleges taking advantage of the low prices on retail space to expand their campus space and offerings.
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