Can Different Types of Educational Institutions Share Space?

On the North Idaho College campus in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, our firm, Integrus Architecture, along with H2A Architects, is currently designing the North Idaho Collaborative Education (NICE) Facility, a higher education building that houses flexible classroom space and much-needed student services functions. That’s a pretty average day at the office, except for the fact that the NICE facility is a cross-institutional partnership between two 4-year universities (University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College) and one 2-year institution (North Idaho College)  All three will inhabit the space in some capacity, uniquely, without any designated faculty offices.

Having three independent institutions share the same building may seem strange, but “Inter-Institutional Cooperation,” is becoming a common mechanism for colleges and universities to widen the ripples of their geographic reach while still fulfilling their unique institutional missions. In creating a facility where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, each partner achieves what cannot be achieved alone: increased access to education, enhanced institutional missions, achieved cost savings, expanded programs and services, a focus on academic outcomes for students.1

A Model for the Future – Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary

Shared campuses, repurposing individual buildings for shared use, and forming co-located campuses or buildings are becoming fashionable.  Is this a trend and/or a model that will stick?  Will it degrade each institution’s individuality? Or is it, indeed, a positive solution to reach a greater number of students who would otherwise not find a college education affordable or accessible?

As we explore these questions, we find these five key factors are integral for a successful collaborative framework:

  1. Good leadership relationships and trust between the institutions
  2. Alignment of strategies
  3. Shared vision
  4. Mutual respect for Institutional Individuality
  5. Lack of programmatic overlap avoiding possible conflicts in school missions

An example that exemplifies this framework is the pending cross-institutional partnership between Indianapolis’ Butler University, a private university experiencing enrollment growth, and Christian Theological Seminary (CTS), a multi-denominational seminary hoping to stabilize enrollment and reduce operating costs.  The schools are located only one short mile apart.  Butler has run out of room and CTS has under-used facilities on its campus.  To their mutual benefit, the two institutions are close to solidifying an agreement that allows Butler to purchase the land that the CTS campus occupies while allowing the seminary to lease back its existing buildings.  This gives Butler the freedom to move their overflowing programs, including their Department of Education, to unused spaces on the CTS campus.2 Through this collaborative effort, CTS is assured of having a continued home campus while reducing the financial burden of ownership and maintenance. Both institutions will remain independent from the other with no shared governance. This partnership is intended to provide services that benefit both institutions and the students they educate, including: offering shared coursework and facilities, joint strategic planning efforts for community development, and coordinated campus safety efforts.

Lessons for Administrators, Faculty, and Students

The good news is that expansion or repurposing of facilities always seems to provide a boost to campus life and the excitement for learning. Additionally, all partners can benefit from sharing space when complementary needs are discovered and determined to make good fiscal and educational sense. Students can be provided resources that they may not otherwise have had access to.

The challenge with cross-institutional partnerships, as we have been witness to with our work on the NICE facility, is that multiple stakeholders may have very different institutional cultures. It is imperative to recognize the nuances of each partner and take the utmost care to acknowledge and appreciate their governance and programmatic individualities. These understandings need to be leveraged to achieve a better campus experience for all involved.

Level 1 Floor Plan_WITH LABELS (002)

The double height student services portion is oriented to the East of the of the two-story shared classroom wing housing traditional classrooms, student breakout/study spaces, areas for lounging, and faculty teaming areas.  Spaces are intentionally organized to reinforce the program’s intent of student and faculty collaboration in a less institutional setting.


Integrus now has the privilege of working on a fantastic multi-institutional collaborative project in our backyard. Through visioning workshops, teambuilding, and consensus reaching efforts, we have solidly positioned the entire team to grasp the needs of all three institutions in innovative ways, thus facilitating the alignment of strategies and finding the commonality of visions despite historically competing needs and differing missions. This has set the three partners up for success throughout the lifetime of their agreement.

All involved agree this collaboration will greatly benefit each institution and the students they are charged with educating. We believe the sharing of space can succeed in bringing the desired increased educational opportunities for the under-served populations they are trying to reach. So far, this process has been exciting and rewarding for our clients, as well as for us. We see great promise in these types of collaborative facilities and hope this trend is here to stay.

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