Campus Backers Hit Goal

 Mayor Kenny Evans appeared at a town hall meeting Thursday to report ASU and the Rim Country Educational Alliance have narrowed their differences to just two key issues.

Mayor Kenny Evans appeared at a town hall meeting Thursday to report ASU and the Rim Country Educational Alliance have narrowed their differences to just two key issues. Photo by Pete Aleshire. |

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Backers of the plan to build a university in Payson have raised more than $150,000 so far this year to cover pre-development costs entailed in buying 260 acres for the campus from the U.S. Forest Service.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the community support to date,” commented Fund-raising Committee Co-chairperson Janet Vidnovic. “The broad range of community involvement is both encouraging and impressive,” added Richard Johnson, the other committee co-chair.

The money helped pay for an environmental assessment of the planned sale of land south of Highway 260 where the Payson Ranger Station now sits for a 6,000-

The Rim Country Educational Foundation launched a fund-raising drive earlier this year, after investors balked at fronting the money needed to do the assessment and move the project to the top of the Forest Service priority list by also paying for the staff time necessary to review the work of the consultants hired to do the assessment.

The Foundation was established to enlist community support for the university project. It is separate from the Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE, an independent public agency formed by Payson and Star Valley to actually buy the land, build the campus and lease facilities to the university and other businesses.

The Foundation enlisted the help of the Central Arizona Board of Realtors and other groups to raise money to make installment payments for the assessments when the problem threatened to stall the already long-delayed project.

A release this week from the Foundation credited the efforts of a host of organizations in addition to the Realtors, including PAYSON P.A.Y.S. (Professionals at Your Service), the Gila County Board of Supervisors and many individuals. The group staged events such as the Art Walk at The Rim, a dinner/dance and auction at the Oxbow, and a Polaris ATV auction.

“Everyone wanted to find a way to contribute,” noted Vidnovic. “Whether it was a donation of money, time, or goods, every contribution made a difference.”

The Forest Service recently accepted the assessment, which found the sale would provide a huge benefit to the Forest Service with minimal environmental impacts.

The Forest Service would use the money to build new offices, public contact, firefighting and storage facilities. The only environmental issue that might require additional “mitigation” stemmed from the discovery of 19 spots on the property where archaeologists found pottery shards, prehistoric tools or indications of the existence of shelters — left by either the Apache or by the Mogollon people who lived in the area for 1,000 years before disappearing in the 1400s.

The Foundation will continue to raise money to cover additional costs like an appraisal. The Foundation has appealed to the public for year-end, tax deductible contributions.

“Many of these expenses have been incurred and paid already, so that the development process can stay on track,” explained Vidnovic. “We’ll need to continue our fund-raising efforts into 2013.”

“Year-end tax planning is an opportune time for charitable giving, so don’t wait till after Jan. 1, if you’d like to contribute to the university initiative,” she concluded.

Johnson said that the investors have promised to repay the Foundation for the money spent on the assessment and other pre-development costs once the Forest Service actually approves the sale of the land.

“The pre-development costs that we are working to fund will be repaid by the developer. The funds raised now will be available for scholarships for Rim Country youth down the road. Contributions basically deliver a two-for-one value. They help today with the campus initiative, and they help in the future, to educate local youth at the campus.”

The Alliance SLE continued to negotiate with Arizona State University on the final terms of the agreement to build a campus here.

Sources close to the negotiations say that the approval of the land sale by the Forest Service remains the key issue still unresolved.

ASU has reportedly offered a proposal that would enable it to satisfy one of its key concerns — the issue of who will own the campus buildings at the end of the initial lease period of 20 or 30 years. Reportedly, ASU and the SLE have also come to terms on one of the key, early sticking points, involving who will own the dorms.

Backers say they hope to finalize the deal soon and hope to start construction next year.

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