Increase in Student Enrollment Leads WNMU to Plan New Residence Housing

© Western New Mexico University

With residence halls at capacity, Western New Mexico University is looking toward additional opportunities to house students and is turning its eye to a campus building that served as a residence hall for many years, Ritch Hall.

Currently the home of Aldo Leopold Charter School and the WNMU Office of Marketing and Communications, Ritch Hall served as a dormitory from when it was built in 1906 until 2016. The building, which over the years has undergone renovations and an addition, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Director of Housing Jason Quimby said that enrollment numbers and the need for housing has grown steadily in recent years, with the squeeze being felt most acutely this past year. At the start of the year, “We had to temporarily house students in a barracks style classroom in the PE Complex,” he said. “This year we are experiencing the same problem and currently have approximately 51 students on an overflow waitlist.”

Quimby added that the “lack of housing facilities means the loss of students. We as a university want to provide students comfortable living quarters with a lively student experience and a top tier education.”

The university had initially looked at constructing a new residence hall to address the issue, said WNMU President Dr. Joseph Shepard. “We went out and looked at what it would take to build new housing in today’s environment, similar to what we have built at Mustang Village,” he said. “That cost came out to be about $45 million.” Shepard said that Ritch Hall can be converted back into a residence hall for a fraction of that cost.

The details of the remodel are still in the planning stage, but Shepard said that, ideally, the building would have single bedroom, single bath units.

While Shepard had initially hoped to begin renovations next year, the fact that Ritch Hall houses the charter school has caused the university to push back the start date to two years to allow time for Aldo Leopold to find a new home. The school, said Shepard, is “truly a bright spot for our community. I am so thankful they are here. They educate students that I think otherwise might struggle in other settings, and they do an amazing job of guiding and educating those students.”

Shepard said that to help the school relocate, he has offered its administration the opportunity to lease university-owned land near Guadalupe Montessori School to construct a new facility.

Hannah Wecks, the director of Aldo Leopold Charter School, said the school’s leadership team is beginning conversations to determine how to proceed.  “While we are disappointed to leave campus, as it is a beautiful campus and it has been a wonderful partnership [with WNMU], we are excited to work with the university and other community partners to find our new home,” she said. “We have enjoyed being on campus, it has been a great asset for students who take dual credit classes, and we have felt welcomed and supported throughout our time here.”

“I am happy that WNMU enrollment has increased so much,” added Wecks, “That is good for the university and for the community.”

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