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Unusual idea has grown into a thriving University of Colorado campus

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Today, the modern-looking college campus stands majestically on a picturesque hillside, with its 7,500 students inspired by panoramic views of the Front Range and across much of Colorado Springs.

Surely, one would assume, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs especially with its prime location had to be the brainchild of some long-ago visionary, perhaps city founder Gen. William Palmer himself.

The truth, and the little-remembered history of CU's local branch, are quite the opposite.

More than four decades ago, Colorado Springs and the state of Colorado were working to bring Hewlett-Packard to the city. But the company drove a hard bargain, as HP co-founder David Packard demanded a University of Colorado campus in the Springs with academic focus on engineering and business before committing to building a major plant here.

The turning point came when the owner of an 80-acre complex, formerly the Cragmor Sanatorium for treating victims of tuberculosis, willingly sold the land to the state for $1.

And so, in 1965, the school was born. For years, throughout the 1970s, it was known around the Springs simply as "Cragmor" and most people had no idea of its ties to CU. Those who did know simply thought of the local campus as a stepchild, with many students going a year or two here before transferring to Boulder or elsewhere.

Not anymore. In its fifth decade, UCCS offers 26 bachelors degrees, 17 masters and four doctoral programs, with 514 faculty members and nearly 400 more on staff in a $107 million operation. The campus now includes 520 acres, almost all donated from the local community, and spreads eastward to the intersection of Union Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway.

With the arrival of the new century, the school's also cultivating its own identity. Since 2000, UCCS has been designated as CU's primary-growth campus. Also, in 2003, the state Legislature revised UCCS' initial statutory guidelines, which had restricted the local campus from offering or expanding many programs. Major construction projects have added or renovated buildings throughout the complex, with more work ongoing that includes a new center for arts and humanities, a recreation center, classrooms and more parking-garage space.

For most of its history, UCCS was totally a commuter campus, with some nearby apartments but nothing else to attract students from elsewhere. Now the university has several on-campus residence halls and apartment areas, enough to house 900, and it's no coincidence that UCCS now has students from all of Colorado's 64 counties.

What about the future? David Packard, who passed away in 1996, would surely be impressed with UCCS' current projection of growing to 9,000-plus students in the next five years, and its goal of developing into the nation's premier regional research university.

Not bad for the stepchild once known only as Cragmor.

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