$30 million, hiring plans drive Grand Canyon University neighborhood revitalization (Video)










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Sep 18, 2014, 10:16am MST UPDATED: Sep 18, 2014, 11:11am MST

Angela Gonzales Senior Reporter- Phoenix Business Journal

Brian Mueller, president and CEO of Grand Canyon Education Inc., has big plans for the neighborhood surrounding Grand Canyon University’s Phoenix campus.

Not only does he plan to grow enrollment of that campus to 25,000 students over the next five years and increase the footprint of the campus to 240 acres, but he has bigger plans to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood.

Mueller has been working with the city of Phoenix to reduce crime in the neighborhood and also is working with local school districts to help students improve their academic performance.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who grew up just north of GCU, applauds the university’s investment in the campus and neighborhood.

“We need more college graduates,” he said. “We cannot achieve our economic goals as a community unless we significantly increase the college attainment rates in our state. Grand Canyon University is a big part of that.”

He said he is proud of the way the university has embraced the west Phoenix area.

Mueller said he plans to hire hundreds of people in the next couple of years and is working with local churches to identify qualified members of their congregation to fill those spots.

He’s starting with Love International for the first five jobs.

“If they work here, they can go to college for free and their children can go to college for free here,” he said. “They can have a new vision for their life.”

Love International is next to a 30-acre parcel GCU recently acquired at 27th Avenue and Camelback Road.

On that land was a swap meet building that has been turned into an office complex that employs 700 GCU workers.

GCU also bought a hotel next door that had been used for prostitution and is being converted to a “Holiday Inn equivalent,” Mueller said.Plans call for building a restaurant, conference center and four-story office complex on that property fronting Camelback Road.

The total investment for that 30-acre parcel is about $30 million, Mueller said.

Once that project is completed, GCU’s 800 employees in Peoria and 800 employees in Tempe will move to that center, creating a workforce of 2,400 people on that spot, he said.

“What used to be a place where criminals would congregate now is going to be a vibrant bustling business center where people are going to come and to help us run this university,” he said. “We’re excited about that. It ties our employees closer to the campus.”

That area will be a gateway to GCU’s campus, he said.

“As people drive by I-17 and get off at Camelback, the first impression will be a beautiful piece of property that can be another impetus to restore this neighborhood to middle class status,” he said.

GCU also just signed a contract with Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate 700 homes between the 27th Avenue and Camelback acreage and GCU’s campus at 33rd Avenue and Camelback.

GCU will tap into its 3,400 staff members who can use their state tax credit to raise money for the project. Staffers, along with 11,000 GCU students can work together to rehabilitate those homes, he said.

“We want to demonstrate that a university like this doesn’t need to shut itself out from the neighborhood, but it can be an economic catalyst for the neighborhood, helping revive it and restoring it to a middle-class neighborhood,” he said.

These projects add to work GCU has been doing over the past two years to improve academic achievement among the surrounding K-12 schools.

“We want to help lift the performance of all the public schools in our neighborhood,” Mueller said.

He points to three A-rated elementary schools in the neighborhood, but said there aren’t many middle school or high school A-rated schools near GCU, which is at 33rd Avenue and Camelback Road.

GCU has been working with Alhambra High School for the past two years, where GCU students tutor the high school students on the GCU campus.

Kent Scribner, superintendent of Phoenix Union High School District, which operates Alhambra High School, said the learning lab at GCU has been an asset to his students.

“The opportunity for our students to have a safe and productive place to be in the afternoon is just tremendous,” he said.

Students who live in stable homes and stable neighborhoods achieve at higher levels than students who live in less desirable circumstances, he said.

“And the effort that Grand Canyon University has made to rid the neighborhood of crime creates stability that can only be viewed as a positive contribution to the entire school and community,” he said.

Alhambra High School is composed of a student body that speaks 36 languages — many of them refugees.

When Claudio Coria became principal of Alhambra, it was a D-rated school during his first two years as principal.

“Last year was our first year of being a C school,” he said. “This year, we’re a C again, but we’re in striking distance of a B.”

He said he owes GCU for the academic improvements over the past couple of years.

“It’s fun to be principal these days,” he said.

Angela Gonzales covers health, biotech and education.







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