How Scottsdale built its first community college

In the spring of 1966, Scottsdale Mayor Bud Tims met with several local business people to gauge their support for the construction of a community college in Scottsdale. It was apparent most folks felt that Scottsdale was ripe for a college campus.

Although the proposed campus would, at least initially, have a smaller population from which to draw (compared with colleges elsewhere), the city was experiencing rapid growth. The challenge was gaining the approval of the community college governing board.

Meanwhile, the Scottsdale City Council and City Manager Bill Donaldson began to establish several volunteer committees. They were called STEP committees, which stood for Scottsdale Town Enrichment Programs.

One STEP committee was formed to look at parks. What kinds of recreational spaces were other communities building? What kind of park system should Scottsdale build?

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Other STEP committees focused on everything from sewers and traffic to roads and the proposed construction of a new City Hall. It was only natural to form a STEP committee to secure a community college.

I was one of the people who talked with Tims about the need for a college. Subsequently, I guess I must have missed a meeting, because before I knew it, I was appointed chairman of the community college STEP committee. I served alongside Billie Gentry and 12 others.

Our first order of business was to invite Bill Van Loo, a member of the community college governing board who represented our part of the county, to meet with us. He advised us to attend the regular board meetings, which we did for two years.

At every meeting, we asked the board to consider Scottsdale as the site of its next college campus. We explained why we thought Scottsdale was a prime location. John Prince, district chancellor at the time, gave monthly reports to the board on our long-standing request. And, in 1968, he presented several site options (including the leasing of 160 acres from the Salt River Indian Community). He also agreed to begin offering evening college classes in 1969 at Scottsdale High School (which has since been torn down).

Not long afterward, the board forwarded a $14 million bond package to county voters, with $4 million of that earmarked to build a Scottsdale community college. The bonds would pay for the construction of permanent classrooms, a science complex and a library, as well as the movement of temporary classroom buildings onto the campus site. Other proceeds would benefit community colleges in Mesa, Glendale and Phoenix.

Leonard Huck of Valley National Bank was appointed general chairman of the county bond committee. I was asked to lead the Scottsdale campaign committee. Our job was to urge Scottsdale voters to approve the entire bond package. The voters said “yes,” and the result is the community college you see on the north side of Chaparral Road, east of Loop 101. Classes began there in 1970.

Today, Scottsdale is one of several community colleges in Maricopa County. Together, they make up the largest community college system in the country.

Reared on a local dairy farm, former Scottsdale city councilman (1971-76), state legislator (1979-85) and oral historian Paul Messinger founded Messinger Mortuaries in 1959. He can be reached at 480-860-2300 or 480-945-9521.

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/scottsdale/2014/09/12/scottsdale-history-first-community-college/15520425/