Sunday, October 10, 2010

College closer, but far from opening its doors


By Matt Brabb
Mogollon Connection Editor

Though it is far from a foregone conclusion, Payson is one step closer to securing its own four year college after concluding a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Arizona State University.

There are still significant challenges to meet before the deal is complete, and no one is pouring the champagne yet, but the signing of the MOU was a significant event in the process.

The town still needs to work with the Forest Service to acquire the 300 acres it needs for the site.

Unforeseen delays in the C.C. Cragin water pipeline project would also present a problem. Delays on the pipeline would result in corresponding delays in the timeline for campus construction.

A few critics of a college coming to Payson have aired some legitimate concerns, and those concerns need to be considered and acted upon. They include questions about a lack of infrastructure and the additional public safety measures that will be needed due to population growth. Town officials appear to be aware of theses challenges, and intend to grow the student population slowly so that it won’t be a shock to the community.

Still, there is no question that the college will be a huge win for Rim Country. It will give us an industry other than the hospital that is unrelated to tourism. We have seen in the last few years how an over-reliance on tourism, and the subsequent sales tax dollars, can be a major problem when the economy falters. A college would provide another source of good-paying, stable jobs for Rim Country residents.

Plans for the college also include the use of the most high-tech, green technology available in the world today.

“It will be the most high-tech in the world, not just in Arizona, not just in the West,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.

An 18.7 megawatt solar array is part of the plan, and a 1.4 terabyte broadband connection capability is coming to the area as well. Gila County was one of four rural counties in Arizona that qualified for the additional broadband service, and won it largely due to the potential of a new campus.

A college would bring other additional benefits as well. Property values would almost certainly go up. Millions of dollars in development fees would make the expected hikes in water rates unnecessary in Payson. Business owners from Pine to Payson to Heber would likely see sales go north due to the population increase.

But for now, it’s back to waiting. Waiting through the painfully slow process of the creation of the intergovernmental agreements that will actually commit ASU and Payson to bring a four year college to Rim Country.

We’ve got our fingers crossed.

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