College progresses, but still no partner

Rim Country University Academic Hall Southwest

Architects and planners for a proposed four-year college campus in Payson met with town officials Wednesday to go over preliminary phase I plans.

Project leaders hope to have an academic building and two dorms built by the fall of 2018 for the first wave of students and classes.

For years, project leaders have struggled to make progress on the long-awaited campus. It took years to acquire the 253-acre site from the U.S. Forest Service, secure donors and adequate funding, work through the maze of legal work, design the site and now, sign on a university partner.

Gary Cordell, Rim Country Educational Foundation president, said Arizona State University, the long-anticipated partner, has yet to sign a deal. There is no word that another college is close to signing a contract with the Foundation and Rim Country Educational Alliance, separate legal entity.

Project leaders are plunging ahead with construction plans, although they have still not signed a university partner.

Last Wednesday, a team of engineers, architects and planners met with town department heads at a weekly Development Services Meeting.

In the coming weeks, construction crews will finish up an entrance to the site off Highway 260. Crews added a de-acceleration lane for eastbound traffic and a center turn lane for westbound traffic, said Garrett Goldman, consulting engineer with Tetra Tech, which is doing site development.

Some residents have been critical of the number of pine trees removed to add the entrance.

Hector Figueroa, town attorney, said the Arizona Department of Transportation controls that right-of-way and required the entrance to be designed in such a way that removed a number of trees for the turn lanes.

Cordell has said that backers are trying to keep as many trees as possible, with the help of a detailed tree study.

Internally, crews added a road through the site to where the first phase of buildings will go. Those buildings will sit toward the southwest corner of the site. There will only be one entrance to the college off 260, with a gated emergency exit to Granite Dells Road.

Joe Ellis, senior associate with RSP Architects, said they finished drawing up a master plan for the site in the spring. The site has a number of challenges to building, mainly the hilly topography. While this is what provides some of the stunning views on the site, there are only a few places to place buildings.

Because organizers want the site to have a “campus in the woods” feel, it was decided early on to put the academic buildings away from the highway and tucked back in the woods.

Toward the highway, the plan calls for commercial buildings.

Initially, there will only be three buildings on the site.

They include a 69,000-square-foot academic building and two dormitories. The three-story academic building will function as an all-in-one space, housing classrooms, administration offices, café, library, gym and meeting area. The student union/learning center can handle up to 1,000 students.

As the university grows, additional buildings and classrooms will be added.

Phase one includes two four-story dorms that will have a total of 348 beds. Cordell said students would be required to live on campus at least initially. That means first-year enrollment will be no more than 348 students.

Ellis said they plan to have six dorms eventually to support the one academic building.

Handicap-accessible pathways will link the buildings and there will be a level grassy area outside the academic building for events.

The feel of the buildings is modern, but with a natural feel to fit into the surroundings. The student union will have a wall of windows on one side to take in the view of the Granite Dells. There will also be a large atrium in the student union.

With the initial design done, organizers are still fine-tuning the layout. Town staff said they had some concerns with the design and layout. One concern, some of the roads on the property have a 10 percent grade and current town code limits grades to 8 percent.

Staff asked if traffic signals would be added on 260. Goldman said signals would be added as the traffic to the campus increases.

ADOT told staff they estimate signals will be needed five years after the campus opens.

A walking path is planned from the campus into town off 260.

Most were excited to see the project moving forward.

Tanner Henry, water department manager, said staff was ready to help them move forward with the project.

Figueroa said the project would benefit the entire community.

Ellis said they anticipate having construction plans done by mid January.

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