Volunteer Committee Organizing To Support Asu Campus In Payson

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A volunteer planning committee for the proposed Arizona State University college campus in Payson will host four community forums this month.

The meetings are a way for the group to share information on current plans for the alternative campus, answer questions, ease concerns and solicit feedback, organizers say.

“The sooner you get people involved when a big change is coming the better,” said Judith Lyon, committee member.

Currently, most residents sit in one of three camps regarding the four-year campus — supportive optimists, supportive skeptics and opponents, said Laura Ann Bartlett-Armstrong, marketing lead for the volunteer committee.

Bartlett-Armstrong says she doesn’t blame residents for their hesitation. Since Mayor Kenny Evans announced Payson would host an ASU campus and related facilities, the project has seen its fair share of difficulties. Just recently, it looked like the project had stalled completely when Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a critical piece of legislation that would have allowed ASU to partner with Payson to establish a Separate Legal Entity (SLE).

Luckily, Payson, Star Valley and hopefully Gila County agreed to establish an SLE, a special district that will build the campus while protecting taxpayers from any liability.

Now Evans just needs to iron out acquiring 290 acres from the Forest Service within the next year to build phase two of the campus. Phase one will be built on 60 acres near Tyler Parkway and Highway 260 already purchased.

In addition, ASU still needs to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Payson. Campus supporters also are working on a plan to build a solar cell power plant that will provide energy for the campus.

With so many moving parts and complex negotiations, Bartlett-Armstrong said it is hard for residents to stay up to date.

That is where the 13-member volunteer planning committee comes in.

The committee hopes to clear the air on many misconceptions surrounding the campus while pointing out all of the positive things it will bring to the area.

The high-tech “green” campus will be powered completely by solar and feature “cottages” tucked in the forest rather than big, boxy structures.

To keep costs down, a limited number of programs will be offered, including health care, liberal arts, biological sciences, business management, forestry and “green” sciences.

The campus will initially house 1,000 students with final capacity around 6,000. Online, the university can handle as many as 60,000 students.

The direct economic impact the campus will have on the local economy will be in the millions, “with a multiplier effect that will ripple throughout Payson and the surrounding areas.”

“The prospect of this campus and the ability of it to transform this town are amazing,” Bartlett-Armstrong said.

The campus and secondary businesses are projected to create 600 permanent, full-time jobs in the community.

In addition, the campus should attract new businesses, broadening the range of services available.

Bartlett-Armstrong and Lyon feel once people hear what the college will bring, they will switch from the opposition camp to project ally.

Beyond committee members, Mayor Evans will also attend the upcoming community forums. ASU Senior Vice President Richard Stanley is expected to attend at least one meeting.

Upcoming meetings

• 11 a.m. to noon, Thursday, June 23 at Gila Community College room 404.

• 5 to 6 p.m., Monday, June 27 in the Payson High School auditorium.

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