A university will eventually be built on the 320 acres adjacent to The Rim Club on Highway 260, whether or not it’s Arizona State University, Mayor Kenny Evans told the crowd at Thursday’s Citizens Awareness Committee meeting.
Although the town is currently negotiating with ASU to potentially build a college on that piece of Forest Service land, the land must be used for higher education.
Of course, an ASU satellite campus would ease the process. Evans said a “significant fraction” of the $70 million in pledges is contingent upon the campus being ASU.
However, he added, “We will have a university on that property out there.”
ASU and the town of Payson are negotiating a deal where Payson could host the new breed of state colleges — smaller, lower cost and specialized.
The local campus could emphasize programs like rural health care and sustainability while dovetailing with Gila Community College so students can access higher education as cheaply as possible.
Evans said the college could serve as an economic engine within Rim Country, with roughly 120 direct employees plus ancillary spending.
One person at the meeting told Evans that he needs to talk with the state gubernatorial candidates because they don’t seem to know about Payson’s potential as a satellite ASU campus.
Evans said the state of Arizona has only hindered ongoing efforts, and that Payson has risen as a serious candidate despite its lack of resources. Other cities, like Yuma, who have courted the major state universities, have full-time staff dedicated toward attracting a college.
“I don’t want them to know about it,” Evans said.
Resident Jack Jasper said he deplored the idea of a college coming to Payson. “Payson is a small, mountain town where people can come and get away from the rat race,” he said. “That’s what attracted people here.”
Jasper said the town’s infrastructure is already failing, and that a new college would make it worse.
“We already have a college here that is suited for what we really need,” he said. “This thing is totally wrong, and I hope it never comes to pass.”
Evans listened to Jasper and then responded, “I didn’t hear a question there.”
He asked Jasper if he was ready for his water rates to triple to pay for Blue Ridge with the number of residents currently in town.
“You’re using a scare tactic,” Jasper told Evans.
Evans moved toward discussing the college’s assets, which could include an off-the-grid building, which means it generates its own power. Also, the school could help the chronic shortage of rural health care workers, he said.