Higher education

Consultant: AIB campus not the 'most positive' location for new Regents Resource Center

Findings to be presented at June meeting

(File Photo) The AIB College of Business administration building is shown in Des Moines on Thursday, January 29, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
(File Photo) The AIB College of Business administration building is shown in Des Moines on Thursday, January 29, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

The “most positive” location for a Board of Regents “resource center” in the Des Moines Metro Area is downtown and not on the more southern AIB College of Business campus, which has been gifted to the University of Iowa.

That determination emerged from an “academic program needs assessment” of the region, which the board commissioned in December — about a year after AIB officials announced plans to give the 20-acre campus to UI, which is on track to start offering some programming in the fall.

MGT of America, which the board agreed in December to pay up to $91,435 to conduct the regional assessment, is scheduled to present its findings at the regents’ meeting next week. Although the group’s report doesn’t include recommendations, it does provide observations of the community’s demographics, existing programming, and unmet needs using data, surveys, and interviews.

“The consultant team was asked to assess the need for other locations across the Des Moines Metro Area that would be most appropriate for establishment of a long-term Regent Resource Center,” according to the MGT report. “Several options were viable and carefully considered, including the AIB campus, with the most positive option (absence of capital cost estimates) being in the downtown area of Des Moines.”

AIB sits about three miles south of downtown and currently is valued at about $20.4 million, according to the Polk County Assessor’s Office.

When AIB President Nancy Williams announced plans to gift the campus to UI in January 2015, she stressed her family’s desire to maintain its educational mission. A gift agreement signed in the fall indicated the university would use the donation “to conduct programs of higher education for the benefit and enrichment of the citizens of the greater Des Moines and Central Iowa areas.”

Regent documents related to the board’s October approval of that agreement indicate UI “has no current plan or intention to sell or transfer the asset to a third party for economic purposes.”

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“However, the University of Iowa has disclosed fully to the AIB administration its participation in a Board of Regents’ assessment of longer-term educational needs in greater Des Moines and determination of the best options for delivering those programs by regent universities,” according to the documents.

As part of MGT’s assessment, the consultant considered five possible location options for a “Regents Resource Center,” including downtown, on the AIB campus, or in West Des Moines.

The firm did not provide guidance on what to do with properties that might become obsolete with the development of a new center — including both AIB and the UI’s Pappajohn Education Center.

“At minimum, we assumed either or both would be an active education site until a new location is up and running,” according to the MGT report.

But the UI-AIB gift agreement does give some guidance around the potential sale of the property.

“The gift agreement cites that any proceeds of a sale of this real estate by the University of Iowa would be used for student financial aid or for continued support of Des Moines area academic programming,” according to regent documents.

When contacted by The Gazette on Wednesday, AIB President Williams and Chris Costa, chair of the board of trustees, declined to comment about the MGT report or what it might mean for the 95-year-old campus.

“Because the report has not yet been presented at a Board of Regents’ meeting, speculation by anyone about its influence on decisions regarding future use of the AIB campus is premature,” Williams said in an email.

AIB’s final term ended May 19, and it conducted its final commencement May 22 — recognizing about 400 students who completing requirements for associate or bachelor’s degrees in the last year. Only a minimal number of employees remain on the campus, which officially will be shuttered June 30.

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Even as the Board of Regents evaluates future plans for the site, the University of Iowa is ready to start offering four degree programs on the campus — the social work bachelor’s and master’s degree programs along with the bachelor’s degree programs in recreation management and enterprise leadership.

The MGT analysis also looked at top programming needs in the Des Moines region and identified areas of focus including architecture and engineering, business and finance, community and social service, and computer and mechanical occupations.

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