Buildings and Places, Education

Suzanne Klein is a principal and associate vice president for AECOM’s Buildings + Places business line in the U.S. East & Latin America. She specializes in higher education projects and led campus master planning for Middlesex College’s CIO Plan.

John C. Phillips is a principal and associate vice president for AECOM’s Buildings + Places business line in the New York Metro. Focusing on higher education clients, he is leading the project team implementing Middlesex College’s CIO Plan.

Typically, a college and the municipality it’s located in have separate visions for their futures. But in 2021, Middlesex County, located in central New Jersey, saw an opportunity to bridge the gap between campus and community as part of their county-wide Destination 2040 Strategic Plan. The County requested that Middlesex College develop a master plan that would encompass opportunities for economic, educational and recreational growth beyond the traditional scope of campus planning. The resulting master plan — the Middlesex College Community, Innovation and Opportunity (CIO) Strategic Investment Plan — focuses on guiding the College’s growth and supporting the diverse needs of the student population alongside those of the surrounding community. The plan’s end goal is to make Middlesex County a regional destination by promoting development that benefits the College, the County and beyond.

The AECOM team was brought on to provide professional consulting services to implement Middlesex College’s CIO Strategic Investment Plan, which was developed in two phases. The plan established recommendations and guidance for future campus development such as major and minor renovations, new buildings, relocations and demolition projects, which will also support growth across the County.

Phase one – laying the groundwork

Phase one focused on discovery — identifying the existing conditions and making recommendations intended to guide campus developments over the next decade. We conducted several market studies to determine regional economic growth and accompanying workforce and housing needs. These market studies demonstrated that the campus’s location and resources could be a catalyst to support Middlesex County initiatives and spur future collaboration opportunities across the region, further highlighting this unique partnership between the College and the County.

Phase two – taking action

Phase two began by understanding academic aspirations and future facility needs to support anticipated growth while simultaneously identifying opportunities to optimize land use that would serve the campus and the community. In this phase, we focused on identifying key areas for development and improvement to be implemented at Middlesex College over the next decade. These recommendations were categorized in the plan as the “Five Big Moves.”

A big step forward

The first of these Big Moves is developing the Multipurpose Community Complex, which will create an active and diverse community destination at the campus’ front door. The complex is an investment in creating a safe, inclusive gathering space for cultural events, job fairs, a farmers’ market and a variety of other activities that support overall community wellness.

“The Spine” is the second Big Move that will connect the campus and Thomas Edison Park, a community park located on the campus’s border, making the College more pedestrian-friendly and the park more accessible.

The third Big Move, “Pathways and Places,” encompasses several projects that will enhance mobility on the campus and strengthen placemaking. These pathways will connect the entire campus, providing gateways to academic and recreational areas and offering new greenspaces located throughout the grounds. There will also be increased access to public transit, better connecting the College to the County.

Big Move number four is “Campus Life,” which will focus on improvements that support a thriving student, faculty and staff population while creating a sense of connection and belonging among all, including visitors. This includes building a new residential complex, a student center and wellness center, alongside expanding vocational education through the Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies, a high school located on the College’s campus. A crucial goal within the fourth Big Move is providing education and experiences that will fill local industry gaps, especially within Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields; healthcare; and equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) positions.

The fifth Big Move focuses on the Athletic Complex located next to Thomas Edison Park. The biggest addition is the cricket field, which supports the plan’s commitment to ED&I by providing a central location for local cricket teams. The remainder of the complex will feature several multisport fields, a track and a playground available for student and community use.

Next steps – setting up success

This CIO Strategic Investment Plan, built around the Big Moves, advances the vision and goals of Middlesex College and Middlesex County — primarily to support the shared objective of improving campus visibility, increasing access to activities and facilities, and enhancing the overall campus experience to spur growth for the College, and stimulate economic growth for the County.

The collaboration between the College and the County has opened the door to comprehensive new ways of thinking about and planning for the future by “Leading Together” — to borrow from the County’s slogan — by providing accessible education offerings, alleviating industry skills gaps, improving quality of life, and nurturing a more inclusive, diverse community to ultimately become a sought-after destination in the northeastern United States.

In our second article about working with Middlesex College and Middlesex County, we discuss in greater detail the concepts that bring three of the Big Moves — “The Spine,” “Pathways and Places,” and “Campus Life” — to life, creating a sense of place on the campus where students and the local community can thrive. Our third article discusses two more Big Moves — “The Multipurpose Community Complex” and “The Edison Park Destination Athletic Complex” — that offer equitable, inclusive spaces for all members of the student body and the general public.

Photos courtesy of Middlesex College

Proposed additions, expansions, renovations and demolitions on the Middlesex College campus will provide inclusive opportunities for community growth.
Originally published Jun 27, 2023

Authors: Suzanne Klein , John C. Phillips