Leadership, teamwork help colleges
address longstanding logistical nightmare
BY GAYLE LYNN FALkENTHAL
When California’s Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community Col- lege District’s voters approved a construction bond mea- sure in 2002, building a parking structure was a priority.
“Without additional parking capacity, the college would not
have been able to grow,” says Bill Garrett, governing board president. After much deliberation, officials determined the most cost-effective approach would be to build a new multistory structure on
an existing campus lot.
The college and the district launched its “Students First” campaign,
which allowed only students to park on campus from fall 2007 until
the opening of the parking structure in August 2009. Grossmont’s
message to its students: “We’re making space for you.”
The downside: Construction of the garage would mean the
loss of nearly 800 parking spaces for almost 22 months, at a
time of significant enrollment growth. Governing board members,
administrators, and other stakeholders questioned how the
college would handle the chaos and furor that would accompany
a sudden, though temporary, loss of parking.
“We anticipate that we will generate goodwill and present a
united, ‘can do’ model,” Cooke told employees, while explaining the
need to maintain enrollment in the face of logistical inconvenience.
To prove her point, Cooke made sure she was on the first bus
hired to shuttle faculty and staff from the satellite lot to campus.
Grossmont College President Sunita “Sunny” Cooke was
confident that, with proper planning and cooperation, the campus
could navigate such inconveniences.
“We couldn’t build more classrooms or other instructional
space without accommodating more cars, and we couldn’t
accommodate more parking without temporarily removing access
to some classrooms,” Cooke says.
During the program’s inaugural week, the Associated Students
of Grossmont College served free coffee and snacks to bus-riding
faculty, staff, and administrators. Sponsors included Grossmont
Schools Federal Credit Union, Grossmont College President’s
Office, Grossmont College Foundation, Associated Students, and
the local Starbucks. In addition, changes to the college’s parking
plans and policies were prominently posted to the college’s website.
Administrators initiated discussions months prior to construction, creating a parking alternatives taskforce and engaging the
campus facilities committee and its planning and budget council.
To keep spirits high, daily prizes were awarded to faculty and
staff who agreed to make the trek in favor of keeping on-campus
spaces open for students.
The academic senate also played a role, working closely with the
president and the various committees in the development of
alternatives, the eventual approach, and communication strategies
for getting the message out.
After exploring in depth all the possible parking options, the
best alternative was to secure a temporary satellite lot at a regional
airport five miles from campus. Getting permission for the project
involved working with the County of San Diego, three neighboring
cities, two regional water districts, and the regional airport authority.
The college kept its community informed with a constant
stream of news and highlights, including commuter tips for
carpooling and other alternative forms of transportation. After
getting dropped off by her 18-year-old son, administrative secretary Dawn Heuft rode nine miles to her home on her 21-speed
bicycle. Theatre Arts Professor Beth Duggan became a campus
celebrity by commuting on her eye-catching three-wheel motorcycle (two wheels in the front and one in the back).
Once the plan was approved, officials decided the remaining
on-campus parking spaces would be reserved for students.
Faculty, staff, and administrators would be asked to park at the
new off-site location and take a free shuttle to campus, take mass
transit, or find some other alternative.
It worked! Grossmont College—and its president—survived the
22-month-long dearth of precious parking spaces on an already
parking-challenged campus. Nearly 400 people attended the
ribbon cutting in August 2009 for the 1,431-space, $24.5 million
The challenge then was to persuade employees to buy into
the plan and to comply with it. In order to get everyone on board,
leadership at all levels, from the president to individual departments,
was critical. All agreed the needs of students should come first.
“Our philosophy has been to benefit students,” Cooke says
of the effort. “We demonstrated that we put students first, even
when it’s not convenient to do so.”
GRANT FAINT/GETTY IMAGES
GAYLE LYNN FALKENTHAL is a public relations writer representing the
Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District in California.