Gila College Takes Building Ownership Steps

Legislative bill introduced to allow college to issue taxpayer-backed bonds for new construction

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Gila Community College’s fight to gain independence stands on the precipice of legitimacy, with toes of two developments hanging over the edge.

First, the college’s board recently approved a move to take over ownership of its existing buildings from Gila County. The county supervisors will vote on the measure on March 17. County officials have already expressed support.

“It’s moving us to our overall goal — to become a fully organized community college district in the state of Arizona,” said community college board member Bob Ashford. “It’s one of the baby steps.”

Second, a legislative bill introduced by Rep. Bill Konopnicki (R-Safford) would allow the college to issue taxpayer-backed bonds for new construction.

Both Payson and Globe campuses are crowded, but the college has no legal authority to finance new classrooms.

One House committee has cleared the bill, HB 2011, and a floor debate will begin next week.

Konopnicki said Thursday that he expects a unanimous vote from the House.

When the bill will hit the Senate floor, however, is unknown, Konopnicki said state senators say they’re debating the budget, but “in the meantime they’re backing up important bills like this one.”

GCC’s rapidly growing student population has created a space crunch on the Globe and Payson campuses.

Senior Dean Stephen Cullen said recently that he asked for stimulus money to expand the nursing program and to jump-start a renewable energy program.

The college board’s unanimous vote to take building ownership also marked the official start of newly appointed board member Tom Loeffler’s term. Loeffler was sworn in late last month to replace Don Crowley, who resigned in January for health reasons.

Previously, the board tabled the measure after member Larry Stephenson said he wanted to make sure Eastern Arizona College’s insurance policy offered comprehensive coverage. He asked the county attorney to review it.

The college had previously not sought ownership of the buildings because the board thought the college could not afford to insure its buildings. By contrast, the county’s insurance pool was so large that the college’s buildings had no substantial effect, according to county manager Steven Besich.

However, college officials recently discovered that Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC, insures the buildings as part of the contract agreement.

Gila County does not meet legislative property valuation or population thresholds, so the legislature prohibits it from running a college.

Because GCC is not a fully accredited school, it receives roughly half the per-student funding as other community colleges.

Advocates want to change that, and college officials say that building ownership is an important step in that direction.

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