Payson Makes Pitch For Frontier’S Future

Payson School Board hears plans for unused school


Four groups offered proposals for the Frontier site.

Four groups offered proposals for the Frontier site. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Neighbors to the mothballed Frontier Elementary School site could see anything from a police and fire department training center to a church filling up the empty hallways.

On the other side of town at the vacant former Payson Center for Success building on McLane, nearby residents could end up neighbors to three local nonprofit groups.

But Superintendent Ron Hitchcock said the school district has a timeline on the application process, therefore, he doesn’t know whether the district will receive more proposals for use of the surplus properties.

Hitchcock said last week that the board will actively consider what to do with the two sites.

At the Jan. 10 school board meeting, four groups presented their proposal to residents.

The Payson Christian School, Expedition Church, the Payson Police and Payson Fire Department each made pitches for the Frontier property.

Police Chief Don Engler delved into the multitude of uses the police and fire departments could make of the site.

“We see using this as a joint training facility between the fire and police representing public safety,” he said. Other uses include an evacuation center, an evidence storage area, and conference center, he said.

Engler also said the town could give the property back to the district if needed — and also provide space for things like storage for the district.

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Eileen Daniels

“We are a government agency and we’re open to helping the school board any way we can,” he said, “It (the inter-governmental agreement), would allow the school district to resume operations if needed.”

Eileen Daniels, a former Payson school board member, parent of Frontier Elementary School graduates, and neighbor to the school site, expressed concerns about using the school as an evacuation center.

“I’ve seen evacuation centers in action,” said Daniels, “Will you patrol that with people coming and going?...There’s only two ways out of that neighborhood.”

Engler replied that he would have patrols going 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Normally we have officers on duty 24/7, but if we set up as an evacuation center we would provide additional patrols,” he said.

Board Member Barbara Shepherd asked if the town would purchase the property.

Engler said Payson couldn’t afford to buy the property, but could lease it.

Another Frontier neighbor said, “I’ve been involved in other neighborhoods with personnel and equipment doing training and the noise and traffic are pretty bad – how do you plan on keeping the noise down?”

Engler said the training wouldn’t involve heavy equipment, just classroom instruction. He also said the town could greatly benefit by attracting other public safety personnel from the Northern Arizona area, who now go to Phoenix for training.

“We could keep their per diem dollars in Payson when they use the hotels and restaurants in town,” said Engler.

Frontier neighbor John Wakelin felt having police cars in the parking lot for conferences would actually offer a deterrent to crime in the neighborhood.

“I like the idea,” he said.

The Christian School and the Expedition Church all offered proposals.

The Christian School offered to trade a piece of property it owns near Frontier for the buildings and property on the site.

“The property we own is unencumbered land zoned for residential use with a conditional permit for a school,” said Larry Fait, vice president of the school, “As far as the Christian School is concerned, our lease expires in the next year and a half. We do have a timeline.”

The Christian School assured the audience that it would use all the facilities as it adds the high school grades. “Currently we have 72 to 75 students,” said Fait.

The Expedition Church currently rents the Julia Randall Elementary School cafeteria/gym each Sunday. Its pastor, Donovan Christian, wants to lease part of the Frontier School site for his congregation.

“We probably would be interested in just one room,” he said, “The number one thing is affordability.”

Three women stepped up to the podium to present a combined application from three local non-profits, Payson Assisting Displaced Students (PADS), Kaitie’s Closet, and Friends of Ferals for the former Payson Center for Success building on McLane.

Susan Campbell explained that Kaitie’s Closet needs a place to store and offer clothing.

Allic Bales of PADS said many of her clients use the Kaitie’s Closet services. She also envisioned a place to hold meetings.

Lisa Boyle, who runs the Payson Friends of Ferals cats group, said the organization needs a place to store food donations from companies like Purina.

One neighbor to the PCS building asked, “Do you feed the cats from there? I live close to there.”

Boyle said no, the organization would only give out food donations to colony managers.

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