College enrollment dips in polygamous church town

Associated Press/February 21, 2009

Salt Lake City - College enrollment in a northern Arizona polygamous community has dropped more than 50 percent in the past five years - a decrease a school official says is tied to a government center that shares the property.

"We've had many, many people tell us they will not come to the college because of that," Chancellor Michael J. Kearns said.

Mohave Community College in Colorado City, Ariz., is now asking the county officials to stop use of the multi-use facility that is home to police and social service agencies.

Campus enrollment was more than 800 students before the government center's creation in 2004, Kearns said. Last year it dipped to 350.

"There are other factors that make us feel this would be a good move on our part," said Kearns. "By staying away from the politics, it can be a safe, non-judgmental place to be educated."

Kearns said he's informed Mohave County Manager Ron Walker that the college will not renew a property lease that expires on April 1.

Mohave County spokesman Darryle Purcell said no decisions have been made about moving or consolidating services elsewhere because the college's notice has not yet been presented to the Board of County Supervisors.

Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah are home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which practices polygamy. FLDS members have attended the community college, as do members of nearby Centennial Park, another Arizona polygamous group.

Polygamy is illegal in both Utah and Arizona.

The government center has been home base for Mohave County sheriff's investigator Gary Engles, who has developed criminal cases against some polygamists. A caseworker and a victim's advocate also used the building.

"There were people in our community who felt uncomfortable going into the facility and discussing their needs when Gary Engles was there," said Marlyne Hammon, a member of the Centennial Park Action Committee.

In June Mohave County sublet space to Defenders of Children, a nonprofit group that advocates against polygamy.

FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop called the facility "as welcome as a skunk at a picnic," and said many FLDS now attend classes elsewhere.

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