No Bulldozers -- But Foundation Moves Toward Campus Plan

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Rim Country continues to make progress toward the goal of bringing a university campus to Payson, even though you don’t see a sign in the ground or a bulldozer on the property yet.

Our primary obstacle continues to be securing the land on which to build the campus complex. As everyone no doubt knows by now, the desired property is the current US Forest Service administrative site, west of the Rim Club and south of Highway 260. Even with excellent support from the local District Ranger and Forest Supervisor in Phoenix, the U.S. Forest Service process remains entangled in the quicksand of bureaucratic red tape over which they have little control.

Some milestones during the last four months:

The US Forest Service Sales Implementation Strategy (SIS) has been completed. An SIS outlines the plan for the sale of piece of US Forest Service property, and includes a complex array of surveys, studies, and other requirements. Among them is an archeological survey to assess if “significant” structures or sites are found on the property. Nine such sites were found on the target property.

These sites now must be examined in further detail. The findings of the examination will determine the scope of a Treatment Plan (otherwise known as mitigation). A required review and comment period related to the Treatment Plan involves several agencies and groups, and can extend as long as 90 days.

The Tonto National Forest recently granted Special Access which provides our developers with the ability to be physically on the site. This is excellent news, since all planning activities to date have been completed based on topography maps and aerial surveys.

Another significant accomplishment concerns the sale process itself. Tentative Agreement has been reached with the US Forest Service for the property to be sold in a direct sale, rather than in an open bidding process. This approach ensures that the property is sold for its appraised value, and expedites the sale process.

Other achievements during the past few months:

Rim Country Education Alliance (RCEA) is the Separate Legal Entity that will manage all of the decisions regarding the land acquisition and contracts. Steve Drury now lends his capable leadership to that group as its chairperson. Steve’s many years of administrative experience have already benefited the RCEA in moving forward strategically in discussions with various partners. In December, Jim Lyon joined the RCEA Board as well. Jim’s extensive background in contracting with Colleges and Universities around the country adds another element of experience to the RCEA leadership team.

Fundraising efforts, to which many have contributed generously, continue. Thanks to the generosity of Rim Country residents and businesses, $160,000 has been raised thus far. These contributions have been incredibly valuable in demonstrating that Payson has “skin in the game” and supports bringing a university campus here.

The University Campus in Payson Volunteer Planning Committee – a group who has been instrumental in supporting the University project over the past few years in a variety of capacities – has also changed for 2013. Joining the group are Town Councilwoman Su Connell; Mogollon Health Alliance CEO Sanja Long; fund-raising co-chairperson Janet Vidnovic. With Judie Lyon’s capable leadership as the chairperson, this group has been instrumental in driving the SIS forward with the USFS; examining alternative energy options for the campus site; leading the fundraising efforts; and developing a website to communicate both within the local community and with others throughout the state and nation. The Volunteer Committee will be working closely with the RCEA Board this year to support many of the critical next steps in the process. The website address is www.universityinpayson.com. Updates are posted there periodically.

Discussions continue with the various interested university partners. These discussions will accelerate once agreement has been reached with USFS on the land acquisition.

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