How the West campus was won

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wind spatters Fletcher Library’s three-story picture window with rain, but inside hardly anyone notices.

The crowd grows inside the library — the first building to be completed on Arizona State University’s West campus — kicking off a monthlong 30th-anniversary celebration of the groundbreaking of the campus that would firmly establish the university’s presence in the West Valley. Among the throng on a rainy day in early February are West campus Vice Provost Marlene Tromp, campus architects Gerald McSheffrey and Jack DeBartolo, and the library’s namesake, Robert L. Fletcher.

The West campus began rather humbly, as a class project of Glendale Community College student Barbara Ridge, who called for the establishment of a West Valley ASU campus. Ridge was not alone in her vision, and soon, members of the community rallied behind her in support.

State Sen. Debbie McCune Davis was among them. She remembers the three-and-a-half years she spent driving back and forth between 54th Avenue and Camelback Road in Glendale and ASU’s Tempe campus to attend classes during the 1970s.

“Every single day, I said, ‘We need a campus in the West Valley.’ I mean, it was as clear as can be,” she recalled.

Also in agreement was state Rep. Lela Alston, who was familiar with the same long drive.

“We knew that this community on the west side, which was growing and thriving, deserved an opportunity to go to college and expand and give back to our community,” Alston said. “It was just such an obvious need, and all of us representatives from the west side were resolute about that being our number one priority.”

In 1972, Ridge and her supporters formed the Westside Citizens Committee for Higher Education to push the cause forward. Four years later, in 1976, after a furious letter-writing campaign that inundated House and Senate members with 2,000 handwritten pleas for support, a feasibility study was undertaken. After a year of deliberation, the study committee decided it was time to establish education facilities on the west side.

Both McCune Davis and Alston were present on April 18, 1984, when Gov. Bruce Babbitt signed Senate Bill 1245 officially establishing Arizona State University West. Architects Gerald McSheffrey and Jack DeBartolo were called upon to design the new campus, and two years later, in 1986, the groundbreaking took place at 47th Avenue and Thunderbird Road.

McSheffrey recalled the scene: “[It] was 300 acres of just desert.”

But he and DeBartolo had a vision of a campus that conveyed a sense of place; a feeling that, “when you’re here, you can’t be anywhere else.”

So they set to work, modeling the campus and its buildings after the cloisters and courtyards of Oxford and Cambridge. The move was a calculated one, allowing for larger walkways and breezeways that provide ample shade and protection from the harsh Arizona climate.

During construction, DeBartolo says he often daydreamed of the end result.

“I was visualizing students running across [Fletcher] lawn to get to the shade, and having fellowship and interaction in the courtyards,” he said.

Today, it’s safe to say those daydreams are a reality. At the 30th-anniversary celebration, Tromp welcomed the crowd to what she called “the most beautiful campus at ASU.”

“ASU West has made a lasting mark on the state of Arizona, and a lasting mark on the world,” Tromp told the crowd. “We have alums who have done extraordinary things. ... And it’s because of the beautiful foundation they had in this community that, just like the external West Valley community, gathered together to create this campus.”

Today, ASU West serves thousands of students in more than 50 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs. Each year, academic program offerings expand to meet increased workforce and marketplace demands in subjects such as applied computing, natural sciences, teacher education, criminal justice, nursing, global business and accountancy — the dedicated faculty who teach those subjects are top-caliber experts in their fields. The physical campus has also expanded, most recently to include a state-of-the-art fitness complex, as well as new dining and residence halls.

“We could talk about the number of programs we’ve produced, the kinds of academic impacts we’ve made, but we’d be falling short if we didn’t talk about the way it has changed people’s lives,” said Tromp. “Having this campus here has changed people’s lives, and it changed the West Valley.”

The 30th-anniversary celebration continues all month. Join in the fun at noon Saturday, Feb. 20, at the lacrosse tailgate birthday bash. Attendees will have the opportunity to take a picture with Sparky, enjoy cupcakes and test their knowledge in an ASU West trivia game for fun prizes.

To delve even deeper into the history of ASU’s West campus, check out the ASU West History Project in ASU Libraries Digital Repository.