Elon University campus map

The maroon arrow notes the location of the 18-acre site now occupied by Elon Elementary. This Elon University campus map shows the academic (in maroon) and residence halls (in yellow) that have surrounded the elementary school site, which the university will acquire in October.

One of the fascinating things on the higher ed beat is campus expansion. There's nothing more inevitable than a college or university that wants to expand its campus, and there seems to be nothing that can stand in the way of campus growth — not major roads, not railroads, not neighborhoods, not even churches.

I thought a public school might be the only real estate nut that a college couldn't crack. Public school districts are as stubborn about holding onto property as universities are relentless in acquiring it. But I was wrong, and that brings us to the Alamance County town of Elon.

On Monday, the Alamance-Burlington School System held public tours at the new Elon Elementary. The school opens to students in August.

The new Elon Elementary sits about a mile and a half from the old Elon Elementary, which opened on East Haggard Avenue in 1953. With the opening of three new dorms across the street from the school last fall, Elon University now almost completely surrounds the old school.

What makes this story a little bit different is that Elon University spent about $20 million of its own money to build this new school for the district. In exchange, the university got the old school and, most importantly, the 18 acres it occupies.

As Elon notes in this news release, the university will take control of the property in October. In the short term, Elon will celebrate the reduction in early-morning and mid-afternoon traffic congestion on East Haggard. Then Elon plans to tear down the buildings and pave another parking lot. That's no shock. Over the past several years, Elon has been plowing over parking lots on the east side of campus to make room for new buildings, such as the dorm complex I mentioned above as well as this building.

Long term, the old school property will be "a future quad with residential and academic facilities," according to the university. Elon is now working on its strategic plan for the next decade. I expect that document will include more definite plans for the old school site.

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