U of U organization seeks to expand job and educational opportunities for west side residentsMar 31, 2023 03:08PM ● By Darrell Kirby
With University of Utah Health planning to build a new hospital in West Valley City, a university outreach program is stepping up efforts to provide more services and opportunities for people on the west side of the city. (Wikimedia Commons)
By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]
With University of Utah Health planning to build a new hospital in West Valley City, a university outreach program is stepping up efforts to provide more services and opportunities for people on the west side of the city.
University Neighborhood Partners feels now is a good time to better engage West Valley City residents not only in shaping the new medical campus, but also the educational, training and job opportunities that will be created by the medical campus.
UNP facilitates connections between the University of Utah and residents and community leaders of western West Valley City and Salt Lake City to determine what west side residents want in the way of education, job training, and employment opportunities and the means to provide those options.
UNP got its start in 2001 when Irene Fisher, the founding director who died in February, was tasked by the president of the U with establishing a process to work with west side residents to increase access to higher education.
Some residents and representatives of the area have long felt that the socio-economic factors sometimes associated with the west side result in a lack of attention to their needs.
“We were created partly from a recognition by the university that the west side was very disconnected and had little access to the resources of the university as well as demands from the community that the university be more engaged with them,” said Paul Kuttner, associate director of UNP.
The planned hospital is an additional catalyst for the current work of UNP as the medical complex will create hundreds of new jobs and provide a training ground for students in a variety of health care fields.
UNP has formed a steering committee made up of West Valley City residents, community and government leaders, and representatives from the University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College to exchange ideas on what is wanted and needed in the area and how public entities and the schools can deliver.
“There was a need for a kind of convening space where people can be informed, connect with one another, and also start to talk about what they want to see in this project,” Kuttner said of what are now monthly meetings.
Despite the hospital being the primary focus, Kuttner said the steering committee is addressing other day-to-day needs in the area. “We also want to do work that’s about coming from the ground up, what do residents of West Valley want to work on, what are their priorities.”
Samoana Matagi, 46, is a nearly lifelong resident of West Valley City. He was appointed to the committee a little over a year ago at the recommendation of City Councilman Jake Fitisemanu.
“I really was excited to see the hospital (proposed) over here on the west side because I feel like it’s an underserved area,” Matagi said. He points to the potential educational and employment opportunities the hospital will create that will hopefully lead to better jobs and pay for west side residents.
“It creates the opportunity for generational wealth if the citizens are able to benefit from the building of the hospital. That just lifts up everybody in the community,” he said.
Reaching that goal won’t necessarily be easy. “We have a lot of voices (on the committee) so it kind of pulls and pushes in different directions but we come to compromises,” Matagi said.
He adds that the steering committee is not relying entirely on the hospital to improve the quality of life for those in West Valley City. “We’re going to find other organizations in order to get our goals accomplished.”
The first phase of the new university medical campus is expected to be completed in 2027.