Hopes rise for Ashford campus future

Rachael Keating/Clinton HeraldThere were several developments regarding the former Ashford University campus in Clinton in 2017.

CLINTON — It was a topsy-turvy 2017 for the former Ashford University campus, but it appears the light at the end of the tunnel is as bright as it has ever been for stakeholders.

What appeared to be a set-in-stone agreement with potential tenants the Asian Education Foundation ultimately fell through in May after the organization failed to receive property tax exemption on the campus. The AEF planned to run a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) academy out of the campus.

After ownership of the campus reverted back to Clinton Catalyst, which had purchased the campus for $1.6 million in December 2015, officials were left scratching their heads. Now, however, hope has been somewhat restored.

Tentative plans are now in place for a Chinese education entity to occupy the campus, and beginning in August 2018, house international students who would utilize various campus amenities, as well as take classes at Clinton High School.

International students coming to the campus would range from grades 9 through 12, with a portion of their education to be completed at CHS, and the other portion at the actual campus. The students would be housed in the dormitories of St. Clare Hall.

In mid-November, the Clinton City Council unanimously approved a development agreement with Clinton Catalyst to “initiate operations” on the campus once again. The economic implications of a new tenant for the campus are enormous and were immediately recognized by council members

“The city really needs this to happen, and everybody needs to be on board with this happening,” Clinton City Councilman Paul Gassman said at a mid-November council meeting. “This can really change the game for our community and our slowing economy here... it’s going to bring a lot of opportunities if we just take the right steps.”

Steve Howes, of Howes and Jefferies Realtors, told council members at the meeting to expect the parents of the international students to invest in the community in other areas, not just their child’s tuition. Howes said that roughly one-third of the parents of students at a similar academy in Europe made other investments in the host community.

That academy is owned by the same entity hoping to expand to Clinton.

But the benefits of the potential opportunity span beyond economics, council members recognized.

“The cultural exchange and the social exchange (between CHS students and international students), you couldn’t have enough money to buy that,” former Clinton city councilman Ed O’Neill said in October. “This is a really big deal... you can understand that (the potential partner’s) heart and soul is in this, and this is a big deal. It really is.”