UArizona move creates opportunity for community center

By Ken Sain
Chief Editor

The University of Arizona has operated a “Near You” campus in Chandler for a decade. It’s mostly out of public view, tucked away on the second floor of the town’s community center.

If you don’t visit the center, or enter the city’s main public library, you might not know it’s there. And that’s one of the reasons the campus is moving to a more visible location in downtown Chandler.

“The community center has been so welcoming to us,” said Kimberly Haynes, UArizona Regional Manager for Maricopa County. “However, it is not a place where the community could easily identify us. Now they can walk to us, there should be no problem finding us.

This is only one reason. The Chandler campus is also growing and has outgrown the limited space available at the community center, Haynes said.

In recent years, UArizona has added programs for degrees in finance, information technology, professional MBA, master of legal studies, cybersecurity education, and a partnership with the Chandler Unified School District and the Chandler -Gilbert Community College.

UArizona plans to vacate the community center by the end of next month and move into The Johnathan office building downtown. The Chandler City Council has agreed to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the Board of Regents that provides UArizona with $1 million to help with the move.

The money will be used to pay for tenant improvement fees, relocation and reimbursement of rental expenses inside the Johnathan.

The city benefits from reduced tuition for its employees and the assurance that Arizona will participate in its innovation fair and hold six public events a year. Arizona is expected to use 10,000 square feet of space inside the Johnathan.

Micah Miranda, the city’s director of economic development, said the school pays $2,410 a month. Over a decade, that’s about $290,000.

With UArizona’s move, this creates an opportunity for the community center, 125 E. Commonwealth Ave., to create more programs for residents.

City recreation director Joe Petrella said staff looked at how they used the space before UArizona moved in to help figure out how to move forward.

“So upstairs we did a lot of rentals for community groups,” Petrella said. “In fact, we used to have our parks and recreation board meetings there. The administrative offices were also there, before the construction of the town hall. So we’re going to take a look at the space and reprogram it. So we were told to blow it all up, figure out how much we can invest in these spaces, and provide other programs for the community.

The community center already offers a variety of programs, including a few indoor pickleball courts and table tennis tournaments. They also rent community space for private gatherings, including quinceañeras, a coming-of-age party for girls on their 15th birthday in Mexican culture.

They also offer karate classes, ceramics classes with two kilns, and a dance studio. There’s also a daycare program, which Petrella is careful not to call a preschool.

“We are not allowed,” he said. Still, they try to educate the children in their care, and that’s an option for many families who struggle to find affordable daycare.

Petrella said they were limited in some of their activities due to the age of the building. Some areas do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, the Community Center has a stage for putting on shows, but this stage does not have a ramp, which makes it accessible to everyone.

John Sefton, the city’s director of community services, says the city has other ADA-compliant facilities, such as the stages at the Tumbleweed Recreation Center or the Arts Center. So spending money at the community center is not a priority now. He said the city spends more than $300,000 a year to make its older buildings ADA compliant.

City II Recreation Coordinator Tony Baumann said they are receiving requests for new programs and will review them as they seek to expand.

“More karate lessons that we don’t offer,” he said. “We kind of offer the basics. But more variety, so to speak. And then our arts and crafts and tumbling classes, we have a high demand for those classes that we can only offer, say one or two of them.

Jill E. Washington