The Epic Saga of the College

Sunday, January 7, 2024
Pecos Campus Chandler-Gilbert Community College

In 1962, the citizens of Maricopa County voted to establish a college district. Phoenix College, which was founded in 1920 as part of the Phoenix Union High School District, became the first college in the new Maricopa County Community College District in 1963.

On July 1, 1965, the Governing Board created Mesa Community College on 160 acres at Dobson Road and Southern Avenue in Mesa. At the same time, the Governing Board combined the Camelback and Glendale extensions of Phoenix College to establish Glendale Community College on 160 acres at 6000 West Olive Avenue in Glendale. 

The other community colleges soon followed: GateWay opened as Maricopa Tech in 1967; Scottsdale in 1970; Rio Salado, “the college without walls,” in 1978; South Mountain in 1979; Paradise Valley and Chandler-Gilbert in 1985; and Estrella Mountain in 1990.

In 1978, the Long Range Master Plan for Maricopa County Community College District, 1978-2000, recommended a new campus site for the East Valley in the Chandler-Gilbert service area. The plan designated Mesa, Phoenix, and Glendale Community Colleges as regional campuses to be expanded to a capacity of 5,000 day Full-Time Student Equivalents (FTSE). Mesa Community College (MCC) reached and surpassed that number. All other campuses (Scottsdale, South Mountain, Maricopa Tech) would be designated as “area” campuses. Tadlock Associates (TAI), who developed the Master Plan, recommended that new area campuses be developed in south Mesa, Litchfield/Goodyear, and north Phoenix. The District completed the south Mesa (Chandler-Gilbert) and north Phoenix (Paradise Valley) site acquisitions early in 1981.

An 80-acre Chandler site was purchased near the corner of Gilbert and Pecos Roads in 1981. In 1983, leaders in the Chandler and Gilbert communities formed the Southeast Valley Task Force to support the new campus, and a successful bond election in 1984 provided funds to begin construction of the new campus.

The new campus would be opened as an extension of Mesa Community College until an application for independent accreditation would be completed. In 1984, MCC Dean of Students Arnette Scott Ward was selected as the founding provost of the new educational center.

Chandler-Gilbert Education Center opened in 1985 as an extension of Mesa Community College in remodeled facilities of the former Seton High School in central Chandler. This was 10 years ahead of schedule, based on projections in the 1978 Long Range Master Plan for Maricopa County Community College District. 

In May, 1985, the Chandler-Gilbert Education Center Master Plan Proposal was submitted to the MCC President and later approved by the Maricopa Community College District Governing Board. The proposal was designed by the Provost and two Assistant Provosts of the Chandler-Gilbert Education Center in consultation with the Southeast Valley Task Force. The proposal included curricular recommendations, program groupings and permanent facilities proposals. Also central to the proposal were these institutional purposes:

1.      To create a caring community and student-centered educational environment;

2.      To provide a challenging, creative environment through modern architecture, educational programming and technology;

3.      To keep the community informed and involved in the programs and services of the educational center;

4.      To recruit students not normally attracted to college and provide a developmental program and curriculum to meet the variety of needs presented;

5.      To encourage student development of goals; to assist with student development of personal, academic and career plans, and to monitor and support their achievement;

6.      To provide a system and an environment that encourages student success;

7.      To provide students with excellence in teaching and access to learning resources, including hardware and software;

8.      To provide a quality academic program leading to associate and baccalaureate degrees;

9.      To provide state-of-the-art career training in vocational and technical areas, in response to community needs, and leading to certificates, associate and baccalaureate degrees;

10.    To meet the training needs of the high technology industries;

11.    To accommodate adult, lifelong educational needs for personal and career development through classes, flexible scheduling, and convenient means for accessing information;

12.    To provide service programs of interest to community groups;

13.    To provide efficient and timely information and management services for students and the community, using computer systems and telecommunications networks;

14.    To provide a comprehensive program of co-curricular activities;

15.    To inspire student achievement of excellence in their chosen field and vocational activities.

These purpose statements were the framework for the development of the first Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC) mission statement. These purposes are demonstrated throughout the college from the building design to the curriculum.

The new campus, located near the corner of Gilbert and Pecos Roads, was completed for the fall 1987 semester. In the 1991-92 academic year, the college center completed an institutional self-study required for independent accreditation status. Successful fulfillment of the self-study process resulted in the college center being granted accreditation by the North Central Association on February 28, 1992.

Funded with bond proceeds approved by Maricopa County voters in November of 1994 for Maricopa Community College District capital improvements, CGCC received $31 million in allocations to expand the college. This phase of construction totaled more than $18 million for new building space with another $10 million in technology, voice, video and data connections. Two large academic buildings and an enhanced physical plant added over 141,000 square feet in facilities to the Pecos Campus’ 75,000 square feet. Other funded projects in the bond were additional land on the Pecos Campus, the opening of the Sun Lakes Center, and improvements to the Williams Campus. The final phase of construction at the Pecos Campus included a Student Center and a new Performing Arts Center.

The closing of the Williams Air Force Base in Mesa opened new opportunities for CGCC. The Williams Air Force Base Economic Reuse Plan (August 1992) provided initial direction for the establishment of a consortium-based campus, comprised of a variety of educational institutions, which would jointly develop and utilize a wide array of education, research and training facilities as well as take advantage of its close proximity to what is now called the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. The Williams Education, Research, and Training Campus Master Plan was initiated in May, 1994, to define and plan for a 753 acre, multi-institutional campus at the former Air Force Base. CGCC has an educational partnership with the Arizona State University (ASU) at the Polytechnic campus as well as the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation. Aviation Flight and Aviation Maintenance classes began in spring 1995; general studies classes began at the Williams Campus in the fall 1996.

Sun Lakes Center partnered with Chandler Regional Hospital to provide health and education services to the greater Sun Lakes community. Passage of the general obligation bond in November 1994, provided $500,000 for the development and construction of a 5,000-square-feet education center in the Sun Lakes/Sun Bird communities. The Sun Lakes Center, planned as a college extension to serve the retirement community of Sun Lakes, is located on the northeast corner of the Alma School and Riggs Roads in Chandler/ Sun Lakes. Non-credit classes began in the fall 1995.

After seven years as provost and 10 years as president of Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Arnette Scott Ward retired in July 2002. President Ward’s retirement marked the end of the birth and development of CGCC and welcomed a new era as the college grew into a comprehensive community college. Former Chief Academic Officer and Chief Student Affairs Officer Maria Hesse became CGCC’s second president in July 2002.

During the next two years, the college started the Electric Utility Technology program at the Williams Campus, opened Career and Placement Services on the Pecos Campus and held a grand opening ceremony for the performing arts center, the student center and the baseball field at the Pecos Campus.

In June 2003, CGCC was awarded a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation along with Estrella Mountain, Glendale, and Mesa Community Colleges and in collaboration with Arizona State University for Maricopa Engineering Transition Scholars or METS. 

In November 2004, the voters of Maricopa County overwhelmingly approved a new bond issue for $951 million for the Maricopa Community Colleges — including $83 million designated for CGCC — allowing for new construction across the district’s 10 colleges. New classrooms at the Pecos Campus, facilities expansion at the Williams Campus and Sun Lakes Center, as well as technology upgrades at all locations were included in the bond-funding package.

Also in 2004, The National Council on Student Development recognized CGCC with a Best Practice Award for the college’s Special Services Faculty Liaison program. The college opened the Office of International Students and launched an Administration of Justice Studies program. Northern Arizona University opened an office at the CGCC Pecos Campus.

CGCC was presented with the Chandler Chamber of Commerce Industry of the Year award for its contribution to the growth of the local economy and service to its community in June 2005. Two months later in August, CGCC launched MaricopaNursing at the Williams Campus and debuted men’s and women’s intercollegiate golf in October. The fall semester headcount was 8,940 — a 44 percent increase over five years prior. November brought CGCC recognition by the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) as one of the 2005 CCSSE High Performing Colleges in Active and Collaborative Learning. 

CGCC’s commitment to incorporating service-learning across the college led it to be named to the U.S. President’s Community Service Honor Roll in 2006, one of approximately 50 of the country’s 1,100 community colleges to receive the inaugural recognition. Additionally, CGCC was selected by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning as one of 76 colleges and universities nationwide to receive its new Community Engagement Classification in December. CGCC has retained these designations since that time through its ongoing work in service-learning. On August 11, 2006, the Sun Lakes Education Center was officially renamed Sun Lakes Center. 

Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year colleges, honored CGCC’s teacher education program as one of five exceptional community college teacher education programs in spring 2007 during the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs conference. The college also was the winner of the Assessment of Student Learning category in the National Council of Instructional Administrators annual Exemplary Initiatives and received the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education 2007 Campus Sustainability Leadership Award in the category of two-year colleges in the fall of 2007. The CGCC Sun Lakes Center celebrated the completion of an expansion project, which added a second floor to the original building and the Pecos Campus named its Performing Arts Center after founding Provost and President Arnette Scott Ward. To close 2007, CGCC was approved for continued affiliation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (HLC/NCA) for a period of 10 years after a successful site visit in November. 

CGCC continued to expand its programs and launched Biomedical Research Technology and Fire Science in the fall 2008. During that time, CGCC was awarded a $573,000 grant from the National Science Foundation Scholarships for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Program, for the High-Tech Transfer Program Scholars program. In addition to beginning the CGCC and NAU 90/30 Partnership, CGCC also launched the I Start Smart student success program. Jacaranda Hall at the Pecos Campus opened and was the first LEED Silver Certified building in the Maricopa District.

CGCC continued its leadership of building LEED-certified buildings in 2009, opening Javelina Hall on the Pecos Campus and Engel Hall on the Williams Campus, both LEED Gold Certified. The aviation hangar was also opened at the Williams Campus. That year the college received two awards: the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence and Community College National Center for Community Engagement Award for Service-Learning Collaborations with K-12 Schools. Staff and faculty demonstrated their dedication by donating more than $100,000 for student scholarships during the inaugural Be the Connection employee giving campaign. The college launched the Sustainability and Ecological Literacy program and said farewell to Maria Hesse who retired in July after seven years as president. Linda Lujan was named interim president.

In 2010, Ironwood Hall (LEED Gold Certified) opened on the CGCC Pecos Campus housing physical science laboratories, general education classrooms, lecture halls, faculty offices and a ceramics studio. The fall headcount was 12,296 — a 38 percent increase over five years prior. Linda Lujan was named as CGCC’s third president as the college received an Environmental Leadership Award from SRP for its use of solar energy. The National Science Foundation awarded an Advanced Technology Education grant for $600.000 to the college in partnership with the University of New Mexico for a project entitled ”Developing the Digital Technologist for the New Millennium.”

William Campus became a comprehensive, full-service campus with the opening of Bridget Hall in 2011, bringing a library, computer commons, food service, bookstore, student life spaces, and a multi-function meeting space. The Williams Campus.

2011 marked the 20th anniversary of being accredited as an independent college by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. Fall headcount was over 14,000, representing a more than 300 percent increase over the past 20 years. That year, CGCC held its first annual student scholarship fundraiser, Champagne, Chocolate & All That Jazz, which raised more than $15,000. Additionally, the college was selected to participate in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge for the 2011-2012 academic year. 

Sustainability was top of mind in June 2012 when CGCC was named as a finalist in the Second Nature Climate Leadership Awards, which recognizes Innovation and Excellence in Climate Leadership at Signatory Institutions of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. A few months later, the college hosted the grand opening of the Environmental Technology Center at the Pecos Campus, which included a ramada with rooftop solar panels donated by Salt River Project. 

Chandler-Gilbert Community College was awarded $2 million of a $13.5 million U.S. Department of Labor grant to revise and expand its Electrical Utility Technology program and to develop a science, technology, engineering and math pipeline of graduates prepared for local jobs. The grant was awarded to the Arizona Sun Corridor Get Into Energy Consortium comprised of five Arizona community colleges in an effort to develop programs to help fulfill the state’s energy industry workforce needs.

The One World committee commissioned and organized a mural painting on Cholla Hall’s west wall in the fall semester. Titled “Many Views, One Vision,” it was designed by 2012 artist-in-residence Barbara Gomez and painted by the college community. A second mural was commissioned and painted on the west wall of the Bluford Hall at the Williams Campus in the spring 2013 and titled “Dreams Take Flight.” The college was named to the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the seventh consecutive year. 

In spring 2014, the 10-acre Applied Technology Laboratory was opened at the Williams Campus for workforce training purposes. The college also began offering classes at the Communiversity at Queen Creek, providing a fourth location for instruction in the south east Valley. The “Principles and Elements of Design” ceramics mural was dedicated on the north wall of the ceramics studio. 

In July 2014, the college opened its 74,859-square-foot Coyote Center at the Pecos Campus. The building blends athletics and academics with enrollment and student services, providing one convenient location for students to complete administrative tasks. The building is LEED Gold Certified. Early in 2015, Student Pavilion North is renamed Mesquite Hall. 

Pecos Campus

The Pecos Campus is a comprehensive campus with more than 300,000 square feet of facilities. Home to the college's Performing Arts Center, Student Center, and Library, the Pecos Campus also features complete general education and university transfer options, business, computer information systems, language and humanities, communication, social and behavioral sciences, engineering, visual and performing arts, mathematics, sciences, wellness programs, and much more.

Williams Campus

The Williams Campus is a comprehensive campus with more than 200,000 square feet of facilities. In addition to offering associate degrees, certificates, and a wide array of general studies and university transfer courses, the Williams Campus is home to a number of

specialized programs, including Aviation, Nursing, Fire Science, Law Enforcement Training, and Electric Utility Technology. CGCC at the Williams Campus neighbors and partners with ASU Polytechnic for the benefit of students interested in completing their four-year degree

Sun Lakes Center

The Sun Lakes Center, an 11,000 square foot facility, is home to CGCC’s Continuing Education program, which offers a variety of non-credit workforce development and special interest classes. The Sun Lakes Center also serves the specialized needs of the expanding mature adult population in the Southeast Valley through non-credit computer literacy and personal enrichment classes. The New Adventures in Learning Program offers lifelong learners unlimited access to a variety of classes addressing their specific