The Community College of Aurora has acquired land from the city to expand the campus on Tuesday March 08, 2016 at Community College of Aurora. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

AURORA | The Community College of Aurora is poised to add some badly needed capacity to its pair of local campuses in the coming years following a series of recently retooled land agreements.

In a series of transactions, CCA aims to take control of several acres of land around its Centretech Campus that the school previously leased from the city. The land acquisitions will occur through the termination and acceleration of various lease agreements between the city, the college, the state and the CCA Foundation, which has acted as the school’s property management arm since it was founded more than 25 years ago, according to CCA President Dr. Betsy Oudenhoven.

“We’re really excited about it,” Oudenhoven said. “The city has transferred the land to the (CCA) Foundation, and then the Foundation will transfer the land to the college — that will enable us to own the Centretech campus. Should we want to build or grow in the future, we would have the ability to do that.”

No new land is being obtained in the conveyances; it is merely an ownership transfer of existing, city-owned parcels. The pair of plots that the city plans to convey to the CCA Foundation includes the bulk of the current education and administration buildings as well as an undeveloped tract of land across the nearby High Line Canal Trail. The land will automatically revert back to city ownership if its use at any point becomes non-educational in nature.

The school had been leasing the land from the city for $1 per year with a standing stipulation that the city would convey the parcels to the school in 2040. CCA and, in turn, the state, will now buy out that sublease agreement for a one-time sum equivalent to five years of lease payments, according to a city memo.

The parcels will technically be controlled by the Colorado Community College System, which is the state organization that controls CCA. Because the school falls under the state’s purview, but has not technically owned a chunk of its campus, CCA has been ineligible to use any state funds to pursue new construction. That was a stipulation that was discovered when the school looked into erecting a new facilities building several years ago, according to Oudenhoven.

CCA’s march toward greater autonomy passed its first hurdle last month when the Aurora City Council unanimously approved the new land transactions.

Following council approval, the land transactions must still be approved by the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education, which acts as the governing board for Colorado Community College System.

At-Large City Councilman Brad Pierce, who also sits on CCA’s Board of Directors, said that the new transactions will diminish the Foundation’s role as the college’s quasi-landlord and, in turn, free up resources for the entity to pursue more fundraising.

“We’ve been kind of landlords, but we’ve also raised money for students through scholarships and programs all these years,” Pierce said. “Now, since we will not be landlords any more, we can focus our entire attention on the funds that we raise, and that therefore translators into (more) scholarships and programs.”

Oudenhoven said that recent thumbs up from council inches CCA toward adding space and erecting new buildings to accommodate Aurora’s mushrooming population. The school has systematically run out of space for students and staff in recent years, leaving thousands of Red Foxes few places to congregate, according to Oudenhoven.

“We had a space analysis done not too long ago, and that analysis indicated that we have classroom space but not much of any other type of space that we need,” Oudenhoven said. “We’re really short on student space and spaces for students to just hang out.”

Oudenhoven added that the school has been striving to scale back on its commuter-centric culture. About 80 percent of the school’s roughly 11,000 annual students are part-time commuters, according to Oudenhoven.

“We don’t want students to feel like they have to come, go to class and then immediately turn around and leave again,” she said.

Moving forward, Oudenhoven pointed to the possibility of a third campus to serve a wider slice of the greater Aurora community — a need that could be accelerated by the coming light rail line, which is set to begin scooting commuters through the city later this year.

“Frankly, maybe we need to consider, do we need a third location?” she said. “Because both of our campuses are so close together, we basically serve the same portion of the city. In terms of visibility and accessibility, would it make sense for us to have a location some place else?”

Enrollment at CCA has dipped in recent years, currently down about 1,000 annual students from 2013, according to the school’s website. But Oudenhoven said that she expects enrollment numbers to swell after the forthcoming light rail line buoys accessibility.

“As Aurora grows, we really should grow, too,” she said. “And with the light rail making it easier for folks to get to this part of the city — we see some real potential there.”

Mary Meeks, a public information officer for CCA, added that an updated facilities plan as well as a new branding campaign set to roll out March 14, could help supplement local interest and attendance in the short term.

Oudenhoven said that CCA is aiming to have the topic of its possible land conveyances heard by the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education at its regular meeting later this month.