A few years of planning and searching for just the right place in Arizona came to fruition for Upper Iowa University when it opened up its 19th center in Mesa on Aug. 5.
The campus, located at 1361 S. Alma School Road in Mesa’s Fiesta District, hosted a grand-opening ceremony on Monday for the Iowa-based private liberal arts college that first offered classes in Mesa in October 2012. The new location occupies approximately 13,000 sq. feet, and could add an additional 17,000 sq. feet to its reach within three years.
“Having a university with the prestige of Upper Iowa is great news for Mesa, particularly the Fiesta District,” said District 3 Mesa City Council member Dennis Kavanaugh.
Within the initial three years, Mesa Center Director Bob Barriga said the university expects to serve up to 850 students in all, and that number would increase once the expansion comes into play. Although Barriga didn’t provide an enrollment figure beyond the initial estimate, the expansion could make Mesa’s center the largest of the 19 University campuses, as Board of Trustees Chairman Bob Firth said the school’s largest center currently serves approximately 1,000 students.
Upper Iowa signed a lease that will keep it at the Alma School location for a minimum of 15 years. During the ensuing decade and a half, Barriga said the university is considering branching out and building satellite offices in northern Phoenix and in a different location in the East Valley.
“This is our foundation, so we want to take advantage of that,” he said.
University President William Duffy II said the school first targeted Mesa and the greater-Phoenix area in 2010 and began examining up to 17 locations in the Valley. He credited the city staff for its ability to work with Upper Iowa to get the school into the city’s confines.
“Mesa is second to none,” he said. “What you’ve done is set the standard for other cities to follow.”
Kavanaugh and Mayor Scott Smith said the relationship between Upper Iowa and the city is mutually beneficial. While the university gains access to Mesa’s expanding population base, Kavanaugh said the city gains access to better jobs and more educational opportunities for its residents.
It also benefits the Fiesta District in particular, as Kavanaugh said the site — which exists in the husk of a Borders bookstore — is “truly a key step toward revitalizing the Fiesta District.”
“It’s really what the Fiesta District needs,” he said.
Smith said the mission to get institutions akin to Upper Iowa to the city actually began four-and-a-half years ago when the government launched its HEATT — which stands for health, education, aeronautics, technology and tourism — initiative to attract organizations within those fields.
That’s led to the addition of what Smith called the “Mesa five,” or the five colleges —Upper Iowa, Albright College, Wilkes University, Westminster College and Benedictine University — that have moved into the city during the last 18 months. Absent from that list is Grand Canyon University, which announced last week it will build a satellite campus in Mesa’s Eastmark development.
One thing the members of the “Mesa five” have in common is longevity, as Smith said the city wanted to recruit schools like Upper Iowa — its first campus opened in Fayette, Iowa, in 1857 — with history on their side.
“We didn’t want startups; we wanted schools that had weathered the storm,” he said. “We took what we thought were the best and the brightest.”
Upper Iowa’s opening celebration was the first of three such events related to the “Mesa five” this month. Wilkes and Westminster will open together on Aug. 14, and Benedictine will have its own ceremony on Aug. 27.
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