GCU supports city's budget-challenged programs

Story by Michael Ferraresi
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

As part of an expansion of its public-private partnerships, Grand Canyon University administrators joined Phoenix city leaders on campus Friday to announce plans to help fund efforts to prevent drowning tragedies and curb graffiti.

GCU’s $125,000 contribution is expected to help the city overcome its budget shortfall by funding a civilian position that would focus on community education around drowning prevention. In addition, the contribution would support graffiti abatement efforts in the Canyon Corridor — the latest in the University’s partnerships to augment Phoenix public programs.

In July 2012, the University entered into a five-year neighborhood safety commitment with Phoenix Police Department, providing $100,000 annually to increase police presence in the area from Indian School Road to Bethany Home Road between Interstate 17 and 43rd Avenue. City officials agreed to match the funds annually.

Also, last summer, GCU and Phoenix public schools entered into a K-12 educational partnership, through which the University agreed to provide space on campus for an after-school tutoring program for nearby Alhambra High School. Since then, the tutoring services of GCU students have been made available to other schools.

In total, GCU has committed $1.375 million to community programs in the past two years, Phoenix officials said.

GCU President and CEO Brian Mueller characterized the financial contributions as necessary to support the common good and to serve as responsible stewards of west Phoenix.

Mueller was joined Friday outside GCU's refurbished Student Union by Phoenix officials Mayor Greg Stanton and City Manager Ed Zuercher; City Council members Bill Gates, Daniel Valenzuela and Thelda Williams; Fire Chief Kara Kalkbrenner; Cactus Park Precinct police Cmdr. Kevin Robinson; and Phoenix Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner, in addition to Jerry Colangelo, the pro sports mogul whose name is affixed to GCU's Colangelo School of Sports Business.

Stanton described himself Friday as a "grateful, grateful mayor" who valued the public-private partnerships with GCU to educate Phoenix children and make the community safer.

"For all of our goals in this city to be accomplished, we have to have more of our young people graduating high school and moving on and getting a university degree," Stanton said. "For that strategic plan to be to be implanted here in Phoenix, the success of Grand Canyon University is critical to make it happen."

Valenzuela, the city council representative from GCU's District 5, said the University "has a long history, like firefighters, of stepping up when it really counts," and that the contribution would directly offset items that could be cut as part of a nearly $38 million budget deficit.

Drowning calls and graffiti remain issues that the city’s firefighters, police and other departments address regularly.

As much as $25,000 of GCU’s recent contribution will provide supplies and training to foster a “graffiti-free” zone in the area around the University, roughly the same area covered by the ongoing University-police “Neighborhood Safety Initiative,” or NSI.

While crime and blight affect every community in the country, drowning calls remain a constant challenge in Phoenix because of the high number of pools and the expansiveness of city neighborhoods.

Mueller said GCU has a permanent commitment to sharing responsibility with the city in addressing those issues.

“If we can continue to be blessed with the resources that we have we will continue to invest them in this community so that, over time, between our students and our dollars and other assets that we have, this can become a different community," Mueller said.

Last year, Phoenix firefighters and paramedics responded to nearly 40 drowning calls that involved children, including four fatalities. In February, the backyard pool death of a Phoenix 3-year-old raised concerns among public safety officials about continuing to prevent tragedies.

GCU's investment will fund Phoenix Fire's Car 99 program, a community drowning prevention program targeted as a budget cut in the city's trial budget. The program identifies pool fences that need to be updated to meet city code, in addition to other community services related to pool safety.

Through budget cuts, Phoenix police and fire departments have faced staffing shortages and elimination of civilian positions that deal with non-emergency responses. Areas such as community relations, blight prevention and proactive neighborhood safety efforts have taken hits.

Kalkbrenner, who took the helm as fire chief after the retirement of longtime pool safety advocate Bob Khan, said GCU's commitment to fund Car 99 was important as part of a collaboration citywide to keep Phoenix children safe around water.

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].

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