WCC Studies Ann Arbor Satellite Campus

College looking for downtown classroom space
The lobby entrance to the McKinley Towne Centre building at 505 E. Liberty St.

The lobby entrance to the McKinley Towne Centre building at 505 E. Liberty St. WCC officials had been considering vacant space in the building's lower level for a possible satellite campus. (Photo by the writer.)

Skyrocketing enrollment and an abundance of inexpensive Ann Arbor office space are among the factors prompting Washtenaw Community College officials to consider opening a downtown Ann Arbor campus.

For possible classrooms the administration had been contemplating up to 30,000 square feet in the lower level of a building on East Liberty owned by McKinley. Deans from the college visited the space recently, but on Tuesday WCC administrators decided to pull back from making a decision about that location, according to Stephen Gill, chair of the college’s board of trustees.

Instead, they’ll take the next six months to strategize, figuring out what their programatic needs might be, how much space they need and what kind of presence makes sense in Ann Arbor. WCC already offers satellite classes in Ypsilanti and Chelsea, but this would be the first time the 43-year-old institution would have a significant presence in downtown Ann Arbor.

The space available in the McKinley property – which until 1998 housed headquarters for the Borders Group bookstore chain – was being offered at a very good rate, Gill said. He declined to disclose the price, saying it would have depended on how much space they decided to lease, how much security they’d need and what kind of renovation would be required. Part of the space has been used this summer by entrepreneurs with TechArbThe Chronicle visited their subterranean digs in June.

Lower level space in McKinley Towne Centre is also accessible from East Washington Street.

Lower level space in McKinley Towne Centre is also accessible from East Washington Street. UM's English Language Institute has offices in the building, which is attached to a parking structure. (Photo by the writer.)

But that location might not end up being the spot WCC chooses, Gill told The Chronicle on Tuesday. “The reality is there’s a lot of inexpensive space downtown.”

There are also a lot of current WCC students in Ann Arbor. A recent demographic study indicated that close to a thousand WCC students live within a mile of the McKinley building on East Liberty, Gill said. It was also attractive because of its visibility – with an entrance off of one of downtown’s major streets – and the fact that it’s on an AATA bus line. Those factors will remain important when selecting a site. The idea is to give students more options, Gill said.

Opening an Ann Arbor satellite would also help WCC’s main campus. The availability of parking and classroom space there is already tight, and will become even more so this fall as enrollment is expected to jump between 10-20%, Gill said. According to the college’s website, nearly 20,000 students take classes for credit, and roughly 8,000 enroll in non-credit courses through WCC’s LifeLong Learning program. Downtown Ann Arbor is being considered primarily as a location to offer for-credit classes.

Gill said that in addition to WCC’s reputation as an educational institution, the economic downturn has been a key factor in the college’s increased enrollment. Courses are less expensive than those offered at Eastern Michigan University or the University of Michigan, but credits from WCC can be transferred to those institutions. [Not including fees, WCC tuition is $73 per credit hour for in-district students, and $124 for out-of-district students. EMU charges $238 for Michigan residents and $701 for non-residents, while UM's per-credit-hour tuition varies widely depending on the course of study, with a minimum of $450 for in-state students and $1,419 for students from out of state.]

WCC has also seen a spike in enrollment from people looking to change careers, Gill said. including former auto industry employees who’ve been laid off over the past few years.

News of WCC as a potential tenant comes on the heels of another possible shift in the occupancy of downtown Ann Arbor real estate. On Monday, the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce announced plans to try to sublet all or part of its 6,300-square-foot third-floor office in the Glazier Building at the corner of Main and Huron streets – a building owned by Dahlmann Properties. John Hansen, the chamber’s interim president, said they have too much space for their needs and would ideally move into smaller, less-expensive offices.


  1. By Jens Zorn
    August 26, 2009 at 5:42 pm | permalink

    If WCC were to open a branch in the McKinley Towne Center then students already enrolled at the University of Michigan could attend WCC in summer without facing the problem of additional transportation and without really changing their scene. As a vacation from tuition (if not from the rigors of the classroom) this would be attractive for pre-professional (medicine, dentistry, architecture, nursing ..) students who need to fulfill requirements in basic math, science, and English.

  2. August 30, 2009 at 8:35 am | permalink

    This would be a great location for a WCC campus and would be a great asset to Downtown Ann Arbor. Its important to note that public transportation is a huge economic driver and helps make this location viable.