Westminster College and Wilkes University celebrated the end of an era and beginning of another to one of Mesa’s older facilities with the grand opening of their newest campuses on Aug. 15.
The celebration marked the completion of revamping Mesa’s old courthouse — located at 245 W. 2nd Street — into the Mesa Center for Higher Education: a 53,000 sq. foot building that will be the home for both post-secondary institutions for at least five years. Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said the transformation marked the end of an “extreme makeover” for the old building.
“We are excited that, here in Mesa, we can innovate together and create the liberal arts college of the 21st Century,” said Westminster President George Forsythe.
Mesa councilmember Chris Glover called the opening a “great day for Mesa,” and said the colleges tailor their services to students that want to learn on their own schedule. He said adding two new colleges to the city can also provide more opportunities for residents to work their way out of poverty.
“A college degree is one of the few investments you can make that will always have a positive return,” he said.
Wilkes University President Pat Leahy said the schools took advantage of some of the courthouse’s features and incorporated them into the campus, in particular the science labs in the basement that used to be crime labs used for cases.
Other amenities he mentioned included new classrooms and offices, and he said everything in the building is state of the art.
“It is first class all the way,” he said.
Leahy said the decision for Westminster and Wilkes to come together in lieu of opening separate campuses in Mesa came from the values the two schools share and the fact that Westminster and Wilkes have different focuses, which he said allows them to work in tandem.
“I think together that creates a very complementary relationship,” Leahy said.
One of the students who will take advantage of the new campus is Austin Bennett, who is pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing from Wilkes. Bennett, who wants to become a writer after he graduates in 2015, praised the university for its uniqueness and for having a mentorship program where he can work with an established author on a one-on-one basis.
“There’s an intimacy there you don’t have at other schools,” he said.
Mayor Scott Smith said the process to get both schools to arrive in Mesa is part of a larger project to recruit colleges and universities to the city. In the last month, three institutions opened (Westminster, Wilkes and Upper Iowa University), and a fourth school, Benedictine University, is expected to join them Aug. 27.
Grand Canyon University also announced in late July it will begin building a campus in Eastmark in 2014.
Smith said the city’s objective wasn’t to transform Mesa into a college town, but to become a town with many colleges, and he said that mission isn’t done yet.
“This is not the end; this is simply the beginning,” Smith said.
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