The college campus of the future is expected to break ground in Chaska this year, turning the small Carver County community into a college town and perhaps transforming higher education in the process.

The EdCampus Twin Cities will have the traditional library, student center, cafeteria and administrative offices on its 50-acre grounds.

But beyond that, it will be unlike any other campus in the world.

The novelty lies in the "Field of Dreams" approach of the company developing the EdCampus: If you build it, they will come.

The company plans to erect classrooms as shells, line up higher education institutions as tenants to fill them, then customize the rooms for satellite classes or lectures offered by as many colleges and universities as it can line up.

"They could lease space to anyone from Harvard to North Dakota State," Chaska Mayor Gary Van Eyll said.

"It's a campus that's different," said Tim Engen, head of Metropolitan Lifelong Learning Center, the company that will own and operate the EdCampus. "We believe this could be the largest educational collaborative in the world."

With such variety, the 5,000 to 6,500 students expected to attend classes there could be taking courses from dozens of different colleges and universities.

In effect, students should be able to customize their education, cherry-picking the best classes from the best colleges as they work toward two-year, four-year and graduate degrees. Colleges, meanwhile, will be able to provide thousands of prospective new students a sampling of their educational wares, Engen said.

"Satelliting is expanding rapidly as institutions try to perpetuate their brand across state lines," Engen said. "This project is all about blending that conveniently under one roof."

No football team

The buildings will be housed on grounds that will look very much like a traditional college campus, company and city officials said.

"It will have everything that a college has but a football team," the mayor said.

But the modular structure of the buildings will allow enough flexibility so that a college or university could lease one 800-square-foot classroom on a permanent basis or ask that Metropolitan provide it with as much as 10,000 square feet for a weekend seminar or meeting.

The campus also will be as environmentally friendly as any in the country, featuring state-of-the-art technology such as wireless electricity, Metropolitan said.

Planning stages

Metropolitan is now talking with Chaska planners on its final design. City officials expect the proposal to come before the planning commission and City Council in May or June. Groundbreaking would occur in the fall, and classes would start in 2010.

The company estimates that the construction cost would be $88 million, for facilities including 225,000 square feet of classroom space and 115,000 square feet for student services, corporate training and administrative offices.

The campus would be located on more than 50 acres of land at the intersection of Engler Boulevard and the new Hwy. 212, Engen said.

Chaska City Administrator Dave Pokorney said the company plans to hire about 200 professional and support staff members. He said the company estimates the campus could generate $100 million in annual revenues.

Growing presence

According to Chaska officials, Metropolitan wants half of the space at the campus to be leased to Minnesota colleges and the remainder to national and international institutions looking to extend their brand.

Among the possible tenants is the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, which since last year has been looking to establish a higher education facility in the southwest metro area. MnSCU already rents hundreds of off-campus locations for satellite learning classes.

Last week, Metropolitan made a presentation to the MnSCU board about its project, although both parties said that no agreement has been reached.

"We are still in the process of studying how to meet the higher education needs of people in that area," said Melinda Voss, spokeswoman for MnSCU. "We are still looking at all of our options."

Pokorney and other officials said the Metropolitan development is of interest to MnSCU because it would not have to come up with the money to build and maintain its own space.

"This would be an alternative," Pokorney said. "I think that's one of the reasons MnSCU might be interested. It's something they wouldn't have to put together."

Regardless of who occupies the building, Metropolitan believes the ability to tailor classrooms for clients while providing traditional support and student services will change the way higher education organizations do business.

"We're not in the education business," Engen said. "We've spent five years designing a building that we hope will encourage collaboration."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280