Dr. Steve Hawks demonstrates the interactive video conferencing in a classroom at the Utah State University’s Moab campus. The system is used to remotely connect students with professors across the state. [Travis Holtby / Moab Sun News]

Earlier this month the Moab Higher Education Action Team (HEAT) released their five-year progress report on the extension of the Utah State University’s (USU) Moab campus.

The HEAT report comes on the heels of the City of Moab receiving a $1 million grant from Utah’s Small Urban Road Fund on March 7. The grant will go toward improving the intersection of Mill Creek Dr. and Hwy. 191; the intersection that will eventually host the entry road to USU’s new Moab campus.

“The grant is for the road that connects the road that will go into the university,” said Rebecca Andrus, Moab’s city engineer and the author of the grant application.

The new USU campus that is to be built on the west side of Hwy. 191, just south of town, will be built in seven phases, which are to be completed over a 30-year period. Upon completion the campus may host as many as 3,500 students.

Though construction on the intersection is not slated to begin until 2016, the grant and the progress detailed in the HEAT report, represent important steps in the process of actualizing the new campus, said Dr. Steve Hawks, the dean and executive director of USU Moab.

But expanding and creating the new campus is a “fairly complex process that is under development,” Hawks said.

That process began almost exactly five years ago with the inception of HEAT. The group was formed to create a vision for the future of higher education in Moab that incorporated broad representation from the local community. When the group first met, the USU in Moab had only 45 students and no faculty.

“Over five years, based on that vision that the community helped to create, we have secured five full-time faculty positions and an additional four or five part-time faculty positions,” Hawks said.

The student body, which now numbers around 130, can choose from 15 bachelor’s programs, 12 master’s programs, one doctorate program and a number of certificate and two-year degrees.

USU Moab also has a clinical lab in Moab Regional Hospital and an increasing number of local high school students are taking courses at USU for college credit.

Almost all of the classes that are offered at USU Moab are taught via video link and interactive video conferencing with professors at other USU campuses across the state.

“All of my professors are in Salt Lake City or Logan,” said Katherine Sullivan.

Sullivan , who moved to Moab five years ago, is in the last year of her master’s of science and human resources at USU Moab.

“I started thinking about going back to school, and was originally looking at a master’s of public administration up in Salt Lake, but I didn’t want to have to move. I really like the way of life in Moab and the community that we’d found,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan’s non-traditional route to attaining her degree is currently the norm at USU Moab.

“Right now we almost exclusively serve Moab residents, non-traditional students,” Hawks said. “The average age is 35, married with children and working full-time.”

The hope is that the new campus will start to bring younger, more traditional students to Moab for their studies, as well as give local youth more secondary education options closer to home.

Phase one of the new campus is designed for a student body of 500 to 700 students. The $15 million price tag for this first phase of construction will cover both academic and residential buildings.

The money to pay for the project has already been promised by the Walker family, though the details are still being finalized.

“We have no design to dump a massive amount of students looking for housing in Moab,” Hawks said. “It will take many years for the student body to grow.”

There is still a great deal of infrastructure that needs to be developed before the campus can be built. Sewers, power lines, roads and internet lines will need to be installed before phase one of the project can be completed.

“There are so many pieces of things out there that need to happen,” said Andrus, the city engineer.

Even the realigning and improvement of the Mill Creek Dr. intersection is just a first step. Eventually both Andrus and Hawks anticipate an underpass and traffic signal will be needed to deal with the volume of automotive and pedestrian traffic that will pass through the intersection.

The $1 million grant for the improvement also comes with a matching component of $100,000 from both Grand County and the City of Moab, bringing the projected total project cost to $1.2 million.

Once the road and needed infrastructure is completed the additional phases of the USU campus should be able to continue as demand warrants.

“(The 30-year, seven-phase master plan) represents a projection of how big the campus could grow in that location,” Hawks said. Each phase will cost approximately $10-$20 million in today’s dollars.

While the early phases are fairly general purpose, the later phases will likely be more specialized and geared toward use by specific programs, he said.

HEAT and the City of Moab hope that the new USU campus will help guide the evolution of Moab to a more diverse and less seasonal economy.

“One of the explicit goals in working with the community to create this campus is to provide training that will create an educated workforce that will be appealing to employers,” Hawks said. “A great economic impact will be creating a workforce that has the training to create a more vibrant and diversified economy.”

Having a master plan also makes for much easier and more efficient city planning, Andrus said.

“The impact (of the new campus) is fairly significant and we have been taking that into account,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to build the infrastructure knowing what you are dealing with rather than adding on.”

Construction on the Mill Creek Dr. and Hwy. 191 intersection will begin in 2016. Though Hawks is hesitant to set any kind of date for breaking ground on the new USU Moab campus, he hopes for construction will have begun by the next five-year progress report.