Press "Enter" to skip to content

OCC plans to close Highland Lakes campus

In December, Oakland Community College announced that it will permanently close its Highland Lakes Campus in 2026. The campus sits on 155 acres in Waterford Township and is adjacent to land the township already owns. Residents who live near the campus are concerned that the facility will be sold to developers and are organizing in an effort to prevent that outcome.

OCC has been considering the future of the Highland Lakes Campus for more than a year. The reality is that the college delivered just 46% of the credit hours to its students in 2022 that it delivered in 2011. OCC also has the largest facilities by square footage of any Michigan community college. The facilities cost of maintaining the Highland Lakes campus is one reason for the closure.

Resistance to new housing and/or commercial development makes up the bulk of the residents’ opposition to the ownership transfer. It’s not clear yet what OCC will do, but the college stated that it was announcing its decision so far in advance of the closure to provide Waterford Township with enough time to determine whether it wants to preserve some or all of the parcel as public land. The township is in the process of updating its Master Plan.

A major concern for some residents is that they want to ensure that the nature reserve on the campus remains reserved for nature. Other residents use the OCC recreational facilities, and they want to maintain their access to the pickleball courts. (Not kidding.) They don’t care how much it costs to maintain a recreation facility or how much it will cost the township to take over the property.

Highland Lakes recreation facility may cause grief for Waterford Twp

Waterford Township is considering the purchase of a portion of the Highland Lakes campus, which includes the “developed” portion of the property. That leaves the wooded area (and presumably the nature preserves) available for sale to whomever might want to buy it. According to the most recent Capital Outlay Plan, OCC estimates that the Highland Lakes Campus will require nearly $11M in renewal work on the facilities, and another $1.8M in neglected maintenance.

Waterford Township has about 73,000 residents, and the OCC campus isn’t centrally located. It’s unlikely that all residents would support the purchase of the Highland Lakes campus (or a portion of it) and the conversion of it to a recreational facility because most residents would not travel there to use it.

The other consideration is that there is a broad range of activities that Waterford residents consider to be “recreation.” The township has a number of large lakes that are surrounded by residential properties. Those residents spend their time (and recreational dollars) on boating, water skiing, fishing and other water-related activities. An out-of-the-way recreational facility is not likely to be of much interest to the township as a whole.

Additionally, the cost of purchasing the parcel is a consideration. OCC has not yet announced the valuation of the property. That (and the $13M in renewal and maintenance backlog costs) may sharply diminish Waterford Township’s interest in acquiring the property.

OCC won’t be giving away the property, either. The college plans to fully remodel its Orchard Ridge campus and invest in large-scale projects on its Auburn Hills and Royal Oak campuses. In addition, OCC estimates that it has $50M in neglected maintenance across all campuses, only $1.8M of which would be relieved by the Highland Lakes sale. They’re going to need a lot of money.

Recreation facilities are long-term commitments of a lot of cash

When community colleges build recreational facilities that they make available to the public, a small but vocal sliver of the public gets attached to them. Those users don’t care how much a facility costs to maintain, or that recreational facilities are among the most expensive types of buildings to manage. As long as they pay their $75 a month, they expect the facility to be open and operational. (Never mind that annual maintenance on the facility can exceed $1M.)

A number of Michigan community colleges have found out the hard way that fitness facilities are monstrously expensive to operate and hellaciously expensive to replace when the facilities reach end-of-life. Right now, West Shore Community College is struggling to budget around the replacement costs of the pool in its recreational facility. Replacing the pool is cost-prohibitive, but the 100 people who use it don’t want to hear that. GRCC just closed its fitness center for the same reason – it’s too old to operate and too expensive to replace. Muskegon CC closed its fitness facility after the Board figured out that it was hemorrhaging a cool $1M per year.

Building public recreational facilities on a community college campus is an open-ended commitment to write a blank check to keep the facility running, regardless of how much the operation and maintenance costs and how much revenue the facility does (or doesn’t) produce.

In other words, it is a commitment to lose money. You cannot pledge to keep college affordable while simultaneously burning millions of dollars annually on a side project.

Photo Credit: Bunches and Bits (Karina) , via Flickr