Floor plan

Kirkwood should find a new, smaller location in Iowa City: consultant

Iowa City Campus of Kirkwood Community College. (Google Maps Street View, July 2019)

IOWA CITY — Over the next 24 years, if nothing changes, Kirkwood Community College is on track to spend nearly $40 million to maintain its 97,094 square foot Iowa City campus — which has a current classroom usage below 40% and has seen a 75 percent drop in enrollment between 2016 and 2021.

Since that makes little budgetary sense — especially in a post-pandemic era when many campuses are facing lost enrollment and fiscal challenges — Kirkwood launched a trio of consultants earlier this year to study the Iowa City site.

The goal was to better understand the needs of students, employers, and the wider community to make “informed decisions about the future of Kirkwood’s facilities in Iowa City.”

And the consultants made their recommendation — Kirkwood should find another Iowa City location, cut its workforce by more than two-thirds, and recalibrate its course offerings.

“This concept creates the opportunity to find the appropriate amount of space and parking in a more centralized or easily accessible location of Iowa City with better multimodal access,” according to a final study report, produced by WSP USA, the professional services based in Montreal. Kirkwood consultant engaged.

The appropriate size of a “New Iowa City Kirkwood Center”, according to the consultant’s analysis, would be approximately 30,000 square feet. This would reduce 67,094 square feet of Kirkwood’s current footprint in Iowa City, which is spread over three buildings – a main credit center, an annex and a learning center.

According to the proposal, Kirkwood should find rental property that is more accessible via the Interstate 80 corridor and includes “flexible space” for a wider range of vocational and technical courses in healthcare, industrial technology and information technology. information.

“The vast majority of credit courses currently offered in Iowa City are liberal arts courses,” according to the study, which noted that liberal arts courses in Kirkwood saw the largest declines in enrollment both before the coronavirus from 2016 to 2019 and after the pandemic from 2020 to 2021. .

“Given current market realities, a smaller footprint that uses space more efficiently, with improved agreements for sharing teaching space, and a floor plan to facilitate these benefits is recommended.”

Community Feedback

The consultant based its recommendation on quantitative data and qualitative analysis of community feedback and stakeholder engagement – ​​starting in February with 19 focus group discussions involving faculty, staff, business leaders and local leaders. The March online survey was conducted among hundreds of households in the Iowa City campus area, 346 of which completed at least part of it.

The survey found largely positive perceptions of Kirkwood – with almost 80% giving the college an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade; a combined percentage of 58% saying Kirkwood is somewhat or significantly better option than a four-year university; and 57% perceiving Kirkwood graduates as having the same qualifications as four-year university graduates – 20% finding them somewhat or significantly more qualified.

When asked what respondents base their perceptions of Kirkwood on, 38% said tuition fees, 26% said types of courses offered, and 29% said quality of education.

Although student numbers and classroom usage suggest the Kirkwood Iowa City model needs improvement, 94% of survey respondents “strongly” agreed that it was “critical for the region to ‘Iowa City has a high quality community college’.

But experts argued something had to change — as enrollment in Iowa City fell from 16,382 in 2016 to 4,133 in 2021. Even before the pandemic, enrollment was slipping on the Kirkwood campus, falling 17% from 2016 to 2019.

While ideal classroom utilization rates are between 50% and 70%, classroom utilization from Iowa City to Kirkwood has dropped to 23% in the Annex and Learning Center.

Staying in place

While the consultant considered the recommendation that Kirkwood leave its current location – and possibly rent or sell this site – the final report also explored the possibility of staying and renovating.

This option – which comes with the “benefit of control of the existing site and the autonomy afforded by ownership of the property” – would reduce the size of the property to 82,379 square feet and renovate the existing space, creating “central gathering points” such as a study lounge and a better library.

According to the report, renovations to the main building would cost between $5.5 and $8 million, but would not solve the access problem.

“A number of concerns about the geographic location of the campus in Iowa City were raised during stakeholder engagement,” he said.

The recommendation to move isn’t necessarily a perfect solution either, the consultant noted.

“One of the challenges … is finding the right rental space,” according to the report. “This concept would also include renovation costs once a space is selected.”

Projected renovation costs for new leased space range from $6 million to $8 million, “less any profit generated from the sale or lease of the current Iowa City campus.”

A proposal for new leased space devotes the most — nearly 17,000 square feet — to healthcare and flexible vocational and technical education and lab space. He suggests 6,000 square feet for a student common space and 3,500 square feet for a liberal arts program.

Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.

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