Look to Community Colleges for Your Next Event

By Nancy Keaton

When looking for conference or event space, creative thinking is king. Where are unusual facilities that many people don’t think about? Where are there many rooms, a variety of size and space, computer labs, training facilities? What food options are there?

If you’ve never thought about a community college, it’s time to give them a look. Many large cities have several community colleges to choose from, but don’t overlook the more rural areas that may have an institution, or a branch of one, close by.

All of the campuses have state-of-the-art services because they need to keep up with technology to educate their students. Some campuses have a large variety of spaces to offer for various size groups, and others have new buildings with unique break-out spaces. All offer excellent locations and surrounding opportunities for fun team-building activities.


Lane Community College boasts the Center for Meeting and Learning. This facility offers an excellent experience for groups that want to host conferences or events.

The Center offers a complete conference center with a banquet room and auditorium, each accommodating 75 people, as well as several breakout rooms and three conference rooms. A new state-of-the-art audiovisual system was recently installed, and dedicated audiovisual technicians are available if needed. Exhibit space is available for vendors to accompany a conference.

The Wiper Demonstration Kitchen, the centerpiece of the college’s Culinary Arts Program, offers seating and work stations for 30 participants. When college classes aren’t in session, the kitchen can be used for private classes, demonstrations or other events, such as the “Iron Chef,” a popular culinary competition. Groups can create their own smaller version as a team-building activity.

You can also have your event catered by the talented students in the culinary arts program. “Students learn hospitality, customer service and the ins and outs of the industry through the Culinary Arts and Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management Programs.” I love being able to mentor students and give them hands-on industry experience,” says Paula Westgate, coordinator of conference services.

Lane Community College also has a downtown Eugene location, the Spilde Center, for groups that prefer to be in the city’s central core. Event space at the Center is 2,625 square feet and can be separated into three rooms. A 1,650-square-foot lobby is also available for use.

The energetic and hip feel of Eugene is always a good draw for events with all that the area has to offer for activities. The food scene will excite all the foodies in your group, while hiking, mountain biking, fishing, or cycling through historic covered bridges will keep your group active.

With a main campus and three satellite locations, the college has multiple options, from small meetings to larger events. “We offer a variety of spaces from very small, suitable for ten people or up to 200. And they all come with multimedia in the rooms,” explains Erica Waldbillig, administrative assistant for the chief financial officer.

The Bend campus has computer labs, conference rooms, and classrooms. Willie Hall, at 2,570 square feet, can accommodate 243 seated guests. The Hitchcock Auditorium is in Pioneer Hall, and it hosts concerts and lectures, accommodating 129. Classrooms and conference rooms in a variety of sizes and configurations are available.

The standout difference between Central Oregon Community College and most other colleges is the availability of a residence hall that can be used for onsite conference housing. COCC built residence housing in 2015 which can be rented in the summer. It has 288 beds with some semi-private four-person suites. WiFi is included, along with shared baths, a community kitchen and lounge, study rooms and a laundry facility. No individual rentals are allowed, it must be groups.

To serve more rural areas, Central Oregon Community College has three branch locations. The Redmond campus offers their state-of-the-art Technology Center. Classrooms can accommodate up
to 74 people; computer labs, a large community room and three conference rooms are all available for use. The Madras campus offers 10,000 square foot of space for
a seated group of up to 70 people. Classrooms are also available for trainings or seminars.

The Prineville site boasts 12,000 square feet of space with computer rooms, seven meeting rooms and a variety of classrooms. With a partnership between Crook County and the Oregon State University Extension Program, the site is ideal for a training session or seminar.

Of course, Central Oregon is well known as a premier area for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking, biking, rock climbing, kayaking, winter sports and rockhounding abound. For geology buffs, the ancient lava flows and cinder cones offer hours of enjoyment. The craft beer scene in the area provides much needed down time after a day of meetings or other team-building activities.


South Seattle College offers the Brockey Conference Center as the centerpiece of its conference services. Named for former South Seattle College President, Jerry M. Brockey, the conference center is located within the Brockey Student Center.

“Our first mission is to support students on campus. Then our second major function is to support the non-profit community-based organizations in the area,” explains Robert Sullivan, director of auxiliary services. “We do a lot of dinner auctions for different schools and non-profit organizations in the west Seattle area. Some have outgrown us and we’re constantly looking for other groups we can help.”

The 6000-square-foot Brockey Conference Center has banquet seating for up to 800 people in theater-style seating. A classroom and theater with all the audiovisual and technology services are available as well. Catering is provided by the Culinary Arts program, and some of the students are hired to help prepare and serve. “I’d say 70 to 80% of the students are international students who aren’t allowed to work off campus. We’re happy to be able to provide this opportunity for this group of students,” says Robert Sullivan, manager.

The catering menu is vast, varied and impressive. Wedding buffets, holiday buffets, full breakfasts, lunches, dinners and an all-natural selection of salmon, steak or chicken are sure to please.

“I always say doing an event is like riding a bull. You can prep, you can prepare all you want, but you never know how it’s going to go,” explains Sullivan. “So, I like to see our clients’ faces when they’re done and it’s over, and they’ve had a successful event.”

Located in West Seattle, South Seattle College is near the iconic Alki Beach, and a short trip to downtown Seattle can take your group to all the restaurants and activities a large modern  metropolitan area has to offer.

The new TransAlta Commons at Centralia College, completed in the spring of 2017, sits on the campus of the oldest community college in Washington state. With state-of-the art services, a large banquet space and bright, cheerful breakout rooms, this new facility will draw meeting and event planners from far and wide.

As older facilities have given way to newer, more modern buildings, each has been more impressive. With its openness and effective use of glass, the TransAlta Commons doesn’t feel like the typical institutional building. It’s comfortable, well-lit and bathed in natural light. The atrium space plus three levels of balconies extend the meeting areas. There are several small areas of seating around the building allowing for cozy conversations. A large, wide set of stairs with electrical plugins encourages people to sit and talk while charging their devices.

The Bowman Banquet room holds 500 people, contains a stage and can break into three separate rooms. Each section has its own projector, equipment and sound system. “The acoustics are the best around, they were engineered for maximum sound,” explains Steve Ward, vice president of finance and administration. “We hired a professional acoustics engineer specifically to design it.”

The third floor also has classrooms for breakout space. There are four active-learning classrooms capable of holding as many as 40 participants, as well as classroom labs that are ideal for technical training on software or small group interaction.

“The atrium itself is a great nexus between other areas and the banquet facilities,” says Ward. “The banquet area is set up so the atrium can be incorporated as part of the meeting space as well, for vendors and sponsors to be located close to the meeting venue.”

The exterior also lends itself to meetings with seating areas for small groups. Recently, at a large 500-person meeting, the outdoor spaces were heavily utilized. “It’s a comfortable social area to network and dialogue,” says Ward.

Near the TransAlta Commons is the Walton Science Center with ten classrooms and labs, and Washington Hall which contains eight rooms, five computer labs, and an interactive classroom. Corbet Theater, with its “Twelve Labors of Hercules” murals, rescued from storage after hanging in the Washington State capitol, holds 500 attendees and is ideal for featured speakers.

Centralia is located along I-5 midway between Seattle and Portland. You can skip the traffic jams of larger cities by holding your event at Centralia College, which is centrally located within an easy two-block walk to historic downtown Centralia.



Whoever decided to snag this stunning location on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene back in 1933 was a visionary genius. The college rents large facilities, small rooms, grounds and even parking lots. The prices – and the location – can’t be beat.

A large number and variety of classrooms are available for use, as well as the Boswell Hall Schuler Performing Arts Center, Christiansen Gym, fields, grounds, Rose Garden, soccer field, tennis courts and even the parking lots, which have been used for basketball tournaments.

With beautiful room names like Driftwood Bay, Blue Creek, and Crescent Bay, you know your group will feel inspired and creative. With more than 20 classrooms and computer labs available for breakout sessions, just about any size of group will find what they need. The smallest room holds eight people, so don’t think your group is too small to take advantage of this great campus space and location.

Team-building activities are endless, as North Idaho College offers something a little unusual – a variety of outdoor gear for rent. Whitewater rafting and kayaking equipment, along with all the accompanying safety gear, can be rented right on campus. With the nearby mountains, maybe your group wants to go skiing, snow shoeing, snowboarding, camping or even mountaineering. All that equipment is offered as well. “We rent to the public or students, anyone who wants to rent equipment,” says Emma Pappas, intern with the college’s “Outdoor Pursuits” program. “Memorial Day to Labor Day we are open every day, but during the school year we are only open on weekdays because on weekends we are running trips.”

Tom Greene, communications coordinator, easily explains the best thing about North Idaho College. “We’re right on the lake, which is always a big draw. We have it all, mountains, lake. It’s one of a kind. You’d be hard pressed to find a prettier campus.”

With a world-class location, impressive variety of available facilities and the ability to rent outdoor equipment for team-building activities, North Idaho College really does have it all.



The new River Campus of Missoula College is up stirring excitement since it just opened for classes in Fall of 2017. The 105,000-square-foot site didn’t sit idle over the summer as it was waiting for classes to begin, however.

“There were lots of events over the summer,” says Katie Dalessio, director of fiscal and personnel services. Now most events are scheduled when classes aren’t going. So far, Dalessio says activities are related to the college in some way, such as advisory boards, alumni, or former students renting space. However, the culinary arts program is expected to be a game changer for providing the latest upscale catering for the meetings and events that can be held in the variety of spaces available on site.

The students in the Culinary Arts program have a chance to practice catering and event planning as well. The River Campus doesn’t have just one kitchen, it has three state-of-the-art kitchens. A bakery on site also kicks it up a notch. “Staff learned how to make bread, and local teachers have used the kitchens for testing recipes,” explains Dalessio. “They really had a lot of fun with that.”

Dalessio anticipates that the space will be used for annual events, conferences, business after-hours gatherings and trainings. “It’s located right on the river in Missoula. It’s gorgeous. We have great faculty and staff that would love to host an event.”

Team-building activities are in abundance with outdoor activities and entertainment. Trips to hot springs, ghost towns, museums or art galleries are all options in the area.

The energy and excitement of an educational setting can invigorate and release the creativity of your team. With four community colleges in Idaho, 11 in Montana (including the branches under major universities such as Missoula College), 17 In Oregon and a whopping 34 community colleges in Washington, you have a wide variety of spaces and locations to choose from. They are all very happy to work with you to host your conference, training or event.