UNM-VC given green light for west side learning center


It may be a ways off, but administrators at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus are looking forward to eventually building a new satellite learning center on the county's west side.

At the Aug. 6 UNM-VC advisory board meeting, Dr. Alice Letteney, executive director of the campus, announced the higher education capital planning committee had agreed to put the $5.25 million project on next year's general obligation bond sale.

The OK from the committee is the first step, Letteney said. Since the facility will be a learning center and not a full-blown campus, the project needs approval from the state's secretary of higher education, José Z. Garcia.

Letteney said she plans to talk to Garcia as soon as possible. Final approval from him could come in a few weeks.

"We have been told there will be a ground-breaking for a hospital over there in January. We would like an allied health lab, space for phlebotomy, EMT courses," Letteney told the advisory board. "We feel this project has been delayed several years and the time to do it is now."

In 2010, the project was approved by the committee but when the list went to the legislature, the learning center — which was ranked 22nd — was dropped, along with other low-ranked projects.

If the project is included in the 2014 bond sale and things go according to plan, the center could be open in 2017.

The 18,500-square-foot facility will be built on 20 acres in the Los Morros Business Park, west of the Walmart Distribution Center in Los Lunas. Huning Ltd. donated the land, Letteney said.

In a recent interview, Letteney said the new learning center is almost the same size as the campus's health science building, which is 18,450 square feet.

The west-side learning center would include three general purpose classrooms, three computer classrooms, laboratories, a library/learning center, room for administration and faculty offices, and a student commons area.

Letteney said the center would include at least one allied health lab for teaching phlebotomy, certified nursing assistant and emergency medical technician courses.

English, math, social sciences and computer science courses also would be offered.

This year, UNM-VC requested $3,937,500 from the capital planning committee for the center, leaving $1,312,500 to be covered by a local match. The money for the match will come from a reserve fund the campus has been building for several years.

"The board knew this was coming and directed us to set aside funds from the mill levy, which we have been doing," Letteney said.

The campus, on the east side of the county in Tomé, is nicely located between the two major cities in the county, the city of Belen and village of Los Lunas, she said. But there is a growing need for a facility on the west side of the county, she said.

"There has been study after study done over the years showing that the northwest quadrant of the county is growing in both population and industry," the director said. "This is the perfect place in terms of access for things like health care, and business and industry training."

According to the presentation given to the capital planning committee, on average, about 47 percent of UNM-VC's current student population comes from the west side of the county.

"We look at this site as an excellent starter opportunity for students," she said. "It's hard to feel like you can't go to college if there's something right there in front of you."

Also included in the committee presentation were the results of a July survey conducted by Research and Polling of Albuquerque.

The results showed that among those who were already working on or interested in obtaining a two-year associates degree, 66 percent were very likely and 26 percent were somewhat likely to use a west-side facility to do so.

Those who were taking or interested in taking courses for job training toward some kind of certificate, 59 percent were very likely and 30 were somewhat likely to use a center on the county's west side.

Letteney said there has been an increased interest and need in certifications for manufacturing and machine operations, a niche the center could fill.

With a location close to Wall Colmony, an alloy product manufacturer in the industrial park, and the Walmart Distribution Center, Letteney said she could easily see further partnerships forming between UNM-VC and local manufacturers.

"We have already formed a relationship with the Manufacturing Council of Valencia County to offer customized training," she said.

And UNM-VC saw an increase in students earning degrees and certificates. The class of 2013 was the largest to graduate, with 207 students and 273 degrees and certificates awarded.

"We have increased our student course completion by 35 percent," Letteney said. "This center will enable more students to come to us."

-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.