Aims Community College: Re-imagining the Campus Experience


Aims Community College sought to redefine its Greeley, Colorado commuter campus by creating a vibrant and connected learning environment. The transformation that followed exemplifies the remarkable results achievable through investments in the user experience, and collaborative and responsive design. The goal was to build a strong sense of community that would enhance the academic mission and celebrate the social aspects of campus life. Key objectives revitalized the heart of campus, established seamless campus connectivity, and expanded access to purposeful outdoor space.  The substantial resources dedicated to crafting a dynamic campus environment enrich the student experience and foster an enduring sense of community.



Aims Community College in Greeley, Colorado sought to redefine its commuter campus by creating a vibrant and connected learning environment. The goal was to build a strong sense of community that would enhance the academic mission and social aspects of campus life. Key objectives focused on creating a ’heart’ of the campus, strengthening campus connectivity, expanding access to outdoor space, and fostering a sense of community.


An interdisciplinary team led by landscape architects and architects, with supporting consultants, developed site and architectural solutions in unison. The project spanned a 21-acre area of campus including a new 105,000 square feet Welcome Center at the front door of campus, an addition and renovation to the Student Commons Building, and site improvements that transform the greater campus. The landscape architecture team was tasked with defining a new central hub of campus at the Student Commons, developing outdoor amenity space for both the Student Commons and Welcome Center buildings, and providing campus connectivity between these elements.

Special Factors

The college faced a challenge in keeping commuter students engaged and present on campus outside of class hours. This was primarily due to a lack of outdoor and indoor amenity spaces that supported an engaging campus experience. Students desired areas for study, collaboration, gathering, or areas of respite between classes. The central area of the campus, located outside the Student Commons, consisted of an 18,000 sq.ft. concrete-paved plaza with limited shade and seating options. It was necessary to create a lively and active central hub that was inviting and adaptable enough to host both campus and community events.

Another challenge was establishing a strong connection between the Welcome Center, positioned at the campus perimeter, and the heart of the campus at the Student Commons. These two areas were approximately 1,000 feet apart, with a regional stormwater retention basin obstructing the desired pedestrian pathway. It was essential that a solution prioritized pedestrian movement while also preserving and enhancing the stormwater management feature.


Through extensive collaboration with campus stakeholders and focus groups, the team successfully synthesized a comprehensive solution that transformed the Aims Campus. The site design seamlessly integrates building functions with the surrounding landscape, creates a vibrant central hub, and establishes a prominent pedestrian connection between the hub and the new Welcome Center.

The Student Commons underwent a significant transformation, with a 6,000 sq.ft. addition and a 57,000 sq.ft. renovation. It now includes a student lounge, campus bistro, bookstore, learning commons, the office of the Dean of Students, and various student support services. Additionally, the building offers dedicated spaces for student events and organizations. Outdoor plaza spaces feature comfortable lounge seating, movable tables and chairs, access to power and Wi-Fi, a fire pit, table tennis, playful seating swings, and flexible areas for small gatherings.

The new central hub of the campus, located outside the Student Commons, has been transformed from a plain concrete expanse into a unified central lawn bordered by shade trees. Walkways have been established to recognize pedestrian desire lines across the lawn, creating clear connections between the Student Commons, the adjacent Allied Health Services, a drop-off/pick-up area, and parking. It is a flexible space, hosting impromptu gatherings and recreation, as well as accommodating campus-wide and community events. The design team worked closely with the College to incorporate various program opportunities, such as food truck accommodations, movie nights, live performances, career and vendor fairs, and community market events. Paving, circulation, power, and space accommodations were all carefully considered.

Ensuring connectivity between the new Welcome Center and the central hub of the campus at the Student Commons was a critical aspect of the campus renovation. Responding to the challenge posed by a 30,000 sq.ft. regional stormwater detention feature obstructing the desired pedestrian pathway, the design team conceived an elevated boardwalk that gracefully guides users over the native meadow of the stormwater basin, leading them to the new central green. The 200-linear feet, curving, precast concrete plank boardwalk is flanked by two 20-feet tall precast concrete pylons that serve as visual markers, reinforcing the connection between the new Welcome Center and the heart of the campus. The stormwater management feature was modified to accommodate additional runoff volume from new surface parking, providing a sustainable and low-impact solution to stormwater management.

At the main entrance of the campus, the Welcome Center stands as an impressive, monumental piece of architecture. It houses various student services, including admissions, enrollment, records, testing, financial aid, cashier, counseling, and the Transition Center. The building also features a 1,300-person auditorium capable of hosting graduation ceremonies and community events, as well as an 800-seat ballroom with a rooftop patio that offers breathtaking views of the nearby mountains. The landscape architecture team collaborated closely with the architects to create a design language that harmoniously complements the building. The architectural geometries and folds are reflected in the arrangement and detailing of monumental planters at the north entrance, which emerge to form edges, circulation patterns, and seating before blending back into the ground.

Between the two expressed wings of the building, an outdoor courtyard space was created to extend the interior program into the landscape and serve as a versatile amenity area for students and staff. This courtyard is often the first experience for many staff and students entering from adjacent parking areas. The design of the courtyard responds to the architectural language of the building, incorporating intentional geometries that form a flexible dining terrace, terraced seating around an indoor/outdoor stage. A 14-feet tall bi-folding glass door opens the auditorium onto the courtyard and outdoor stage, enabling open-air performances and events. The courtyard evolves into a more natural landscape, where the terraced seatwalls give way to local sandstone quarry blocks, Adirondack and boulder seating are informally arrange on a crushed aggregate surface, and a fire pit provides evening ambiance.

Environmental Sensitivity and Sustainability

The Aims campus is a unique haven nestled in the westernmost regions of the Great Plains. The College takes pride in a meticulously groomed landscape of manicured lawns, lush pockets of vegetation, and a thriving canopy of trees. While acknowledging the value of preserving the traditional campus landscape, the landscape architecture team promoted a more environmentally conscious approach. Close collaboration with campus horticulturalists, arborists, and forestry professionals was instrumental in developing a sustainable strategy.

A key aspect involved the extensive use of native seed mixes, embracing the natural beauty of the short-grass prairies of the surrounding plains. These native mixes, predominantly grasses, thrive in the region’s typically alkaline and low organic matter soils. The seed mixes were carefully tailored to suit specific site conditions, including those of stormwater management detention basins, in addition to the more common non-basin areas. Approximately two-thirds of the vegetated site area was adorned with native seed mixes. Incorporating extensive use of native seed mixes have minimized maintenance requirements and reduced the reliance on fossil fuel-powered equipment.

Furthermore, the landscape architecture team collaborated closely with campus staff to curate a diverse plant palette consisting of native and adapted trees, shrubs, and herbaceous species. Over three hundred trees were strategically planted across the project site, adhering to the 10-20-30 rule to ensure genetic diversity within the tree species. Nearly fifty species of shrubs and herbaceous plants were employed, following a community-based planting approach. This technique fostered a harmonious blend of mixed plantings, gradually intertwining over time to create a rich tapestry of vegetation that naturally suppresses weeds and reduces maintenance demands.


The transformation of Aims Community College exemplifies the remarkable results achievable through collaborative and responsive design. Key objectives revitalized the heart of campus, established seamless campus connectivity, and provided purposeful outdoor space.  The substantial resources dedicated to crafting a dynamic campus environment enrich the student experience and foster a strong sense of community.

Plant List

Evergreen Trees

  • Limber Pine
  • Ponderosa Pine
  • White Fir

Deciduous Trees

  • American Linden
  • Amur Maple
  • Apple Serviceberry
  • Burr Oak
  • Chinkapin Oak
  • Crabapple
  • Crimson Spire Oak
  • Common Hackberry
  • Eastern Redbud
  • Gambel Oak
  • Honey Locust
  • Horse Chestnut
  • Kentucky Coffeetree
  • Littleleaf Linden
  • Northern Catalpa
  • Prospector Elm
  • Quaking Aspen
  • Rocky Mountain Maple

Ornamental Grasses

  • Big Bluestem
  • Blue Fescue
  • Blue Grama
  • Little Bluestem
  • Muhly Grass
  • Oat Grass
  • Prairie Junegrass
  • Switch Grass


  • Bridge Penstemon
  • Cardinal Songbird Columbine
  • Catmint
  • Coral Canyon Twinspur
  • Coronado Hyssop
  • Dalmatian Daisy
  • English Lavender
  • False Spirea
  • Gazania
  • Orange Carpet Hummingbird Trumpet
  • Partridge Feather
  • Prairie Jewel Beardtongue
  • Purple Poppy mallow
  • Red Rocks Penstemon
  • Yellow Columbine
  • Yellow Prairie Coneflower

Deciduous Shrubs

  • Bluebeard
  • Carol Mackie Daphne
  • Colorado Manzanita
  • Desert Sweet
  • Leadplant
  • Lewis Mock Orange
  • Lilac
  • Littleleaf Mountain Mahogany
  • Manchurian Viburnum
  • Oregon Grape
  • Panchito Manzanita
  • Red Lake Currant
  • Snowberry
  • Spanish Gold Broom
  • Western Sand Cherry

Evergreen Shrubs

  • Blue Shag White Pine
  • Dwarf White Fir
  • Emerald Arrow Bosnian Pine
  • Nest Spruce

Native Seed Mix 1

  • Big Bluestem
  • Blue Grama
  • Green Needlegrass
  • Junegrass
  • Little Bluestem
  • Prairie Coneflower
  • Rocky Mountain Penstemon
  • Sand Dropseed
  • Side Oats Grama
  • Silver Lupine
  • Slender Wheatgrass
  • Wild Flax
  • Western Wheatgrass

Native Seed Mix 2

  • Alkaki Sacaton
  • Blanket Flower
  • Blue Aster
  • Indian Ricegrass
  • Little Bluestem
  • Pasture Sage
  • Prairie Sandreed
  • Prairie Coneflower
  • Purple Prairieclover
  • Sand Bluestem
  • Sand Dropseed
  • Side Oats Grama
  • Switchgrass
  • Western Wheatgrass

Documents and Media

Planning Docs (if applicable):