County, city sign new agreement with USU
Officials say next step is to determine localized curriculum, then move on to fundraising efforts

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) to set the stage for the development of a satellite campus of Utah State University (USU) in Moab was signed on Thursday, Nov. 9 by Grand County Council Chair Jaylyn Hawks, Moab City Mayor Dave Sakrison and USU President Dr. Noelle Cockett. The memorandum, which calls for a $5 million fundraising effort to be undertaken by county and city leaders, was signed during a meeting of the USU-Moab advisory council at the campus of USU-Extension.

The MOU, while offering the promise of a new campus in Moab, is non-binding, stating, “It is understood and agreed that this letter of intent is a preliminary expression of our general intentions. The parties intend that no party shall have any contractual obligations to the others … until a definitive agreement has been fully executed and delivered.”

According to Grand County Councilmember Curtis Wells, the MOU, which expires Dec. 31, 2018, is a “formal handshake to move forward in good faith on the infrastructure development of the future campus.”

“Formalizing the plan between the three parties, and having Dr. Cockett in attendance while we work through the goals and timeline is a very positive development for the project,” Wells said. “The next step is to define what programming will be best for the campus outside of USU-Moab’s current offerings. We’re defining what Moab’s version of a destination campus will look like. Long term, we want to expand and enhance educational opportunities for local youth and adults, as well as solidify our ability to attract a student base form outside our region. For the most part, we know what the building is going to look like, so the next phase is programming and curriculum. Once our targeted curriculum is agreed upon, we move on to the private fundraising phase. While there is a lot of work ahead, Grand County hosts a strong level of commitment and determination to sprint through the finish line. We’re all-hands-on deck and we’re working in conjunction with [USU] on the coming fundraising effort.”

In addition to Cockett, Hawks, Sakrison and Wells, the meeting included USU vice presidents Neil Abercrombie and David Clark, USU Vice Provost Rich Etchberger, USU-Moab Executive Director Lianna Etchberger, USU-Extension Director Mike Johnson, Utah Senator David Hinkins, Utah Representative Christine Watkins, Utah Representative Carl Albrecht and members of the USU-Moab advisory council and community guests including Jim Webster, Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine, Grand County Treasurer Chris Kauffman, Ashley Korenblat, Rachel Moody, Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jennifer Sadoff and Moab City Manager David Everitt.

According to the MOU, the city, county and USU intend to move forward with the proposed campus project off Francis Drive, with terms stipulating that USU “agrees to begin the planning, programming, and design phases for construction of a $10 million building on the intended future Moab campus.” USU will commit $5 million toward funding for the project, on or before the end of 2020, “with the understanding that a minimum of $5 million additional funds will be raised by the community for construction of the facility.”

A significant portion of the USU commitment of $5 million may come from the sale of the existing USU-Moab Center buildings and property. According to Wells, “this is one option that is on the table, but other options have been discussed to both generate revenue for the future campus, and better utlitlze the existing location. Ultimately, it’s USU’s decision and I’m grateful for their willingness to raise money for the project. The city and the county have also agreed to invest in new road and utility infrastructure necessary to build the campus.”

The 40-acre parcel of land allocated for the campus is within 326 acres of land owned by the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). SITLA is collaborating with USU and the county/city partnership to develop a plan with integrated infrastructure and land use for this area. The main access point to the campus property is expected to be on U.S. Route 191, across from Mill Creek Drive, with plans to reconfigure that intersection.

Cockett and Rich Etchberger toured what is currently the barren, rocky stretch of desert where the campus will sit Thursday and discussed what the $10 million facility would mean for Moab and the region.

“This is a major undertaking that will require a lot of work and cooperation from all who are involved,” Cockett said. “Our meeting in USU-Moab’s current location was filled with those who want the best for the local community. We all came together to share ideas and common goals. Based on the meeting, I know we will see continued progress toward a new campus.”

Sakrison added that the new campus would bring not only educational, but economic benefits to the community.

“This has been a collaborative effort by all parties to bring quality educational opportunities to Moab that will benefit all Grand County residents,” Sakrison said. “We have been working toward a new USU-Moab campus for more than a decade, and I’m ecstatic to see it now coming to fruition. The new campus will not only provide expanded higher-education options for our area, but also economic benefits as well as housing opportunities. It’s a win-win for the City of Moab, Grand County and USU, and most importantly for our community.”

According to Everitt, the next step for the city will be to move ahead with closing a Community Impact Board loan to fund road construction, followed by discussions to determine academic programming. When it comes to the fundraising effort, the city will spearhead a private effort that “will be led by the [advisory] committee,” with city staff also participating in an advisory capacity.

The campus will be part of a larger complex that includes zoned housing areas that will help address the affordable housing needs of the community. Lianna Etchberger said the design would be integrated with the landscape aesthetically and functionally, being intrinsically a textbook in itself to the student body. She opened the meeting by giving a brief overview of the plan in progress.

“It was great seeing so many people from across Utah, the local community and USU bring innovative ideas to ensure USU can continue to provide the highest quality of education to the people of Moab,” Etchberger said. “Our main priority right now is researching programming that meets community needs to support economic diversification.”

For more information on the new USU-Moab campus, visit usu.edu/campuses/moab/donate. To learn more about donation opportunities, please contact Lianna Etchberger at [email protected], or call 435-797-4104.

ByBy Greg Knight

The Times-Independent