WNMU Adds Early Childhood and Vocational Technology Facilities to Capital Project Priorities

© Western New Mexico University

During a special session Tuesday morning, the Western New Mexico University Board of Regents updated the university’s plan for capital outlay projects and infrastructure and capital projects.

Over Zoom, the members of the WNMU Board of Regents, including Regent Chair Dr. Mary Hotvedt, Vice Chair Janice Baca Argabright, Student Regent/Secretary/Treasurer Brenda Hernandez Gonzales, and members Dr. Lyndon Haviland and Dr. Daniel H. Lopez heard from WNMU President Dr. Joseph Shepard and Vice President for Business Affairs Kelley Riddle, who provided context for the changes.

“When we decided on our priorities six months ago, we did not know the type of funding that might be available,” Dr. Shepard said. “The state has some high needs. One of those is early childhood.”

Reputed as a model early childhood development center and teacher preparation institution with the integrated WNMU Family Counseling Center, being a cornerstone of the success of the WNMU Early Childhood Program, WNMU is well positioned for expanding services and improving access for future teachers and for rural families in need of high-quality, affordable early childhood education.

Last month, Dr. Shepard said, legislators and the state’s secretaries of both higher education and early childhood education visited campus to explore how WNMU could expand its services.

According to the proposed plan, WNMU is requesting $12 million in nonrecurring capital outlay funding for a new WNMU Early Childhood Center of Excellence on eight acres the university acquired for this purpose near the intersection of Mississippi and Hill streets just blocks the Silver City main campus.

The long-range vision for the facility includes creating a Developmental School serving infants and children through grade 12, and relocating the entire WNMU School of Education to this site. Additional concepts include further exploring the possibilities of incorporating Montessori training and creating bilingual offerings in partnership with other local public and private schools.

“Theoretically, we could have birth through a master’s degree in that one facility. We presented that to the legislative delegation and received positive feedback,” Dr. Shepard said.

Dr. Lopez said having quality childcare options helps when recruiting faculty and staff to a rural university. “You reduce absenteeism, efficiency goes up,” he said. “If there are vacancies, you can open to the community, and that creates community support.”

The second item added to the newly approved plan is a Vocational Training Center, which was concepted in response to workforce needs identified by a New Mexico economic development agency. “I’ve been having conversations with Freeport McMoRan, the largest employer in our area, and with Grant County. Imagine a private-public-public partnership that changes this region for the better,” Dr. Shepard said.

The $12 million proposal includes building a 25,000 square foot WNMU Vocational Training Center on 68 county-owed acres near the Freeport McMoRan Chino mine. The facility would be built and operated in conjunction with Freeport-McMoRan, which would assist with the necessary training equipment. In addition to leasing or selling the land to WNMU, Grant County as a partner would provide operating and instructional expertise.

Having the center would enable WNMU to offer more robust training in commercial and specialized welding, along with electrical technology, diesel mechanic and commercial driver’s license programs. “All the things we need to stimulate our economy,” Dr. Shepard said. “That is a game changer for our area.”

The third and final item adjusted in the plan was related to the university’s carbon neutrality goals. “We’d like to get down to zero if we could,” Dr. Shepard said. “Presently, we’ve invested $8 million into our energy infrastructure. We’ve invested with PNM in terms of getting 50% of our power through solar energy. We’re directly going to put solar panels over some of our parking lots to add another 10 or 15%.”

WNMU is seeking another $12 million to move infrastructure underground, which opens possibilities for electric vehicles, Dr. Shepard said.

The board also reviewed and approved the fiscal year 2021 Endowment Report, which is to be submitted to the State of New Mexico. Between the Endowed Faculty Development Program established in 2005, Higher Education Endowment awarded in 2008, Dorothy Blalock Endowed Professorship awarded in 2008 and Expressive Arts Endowment Fund awarded in 2009, the HED allocation amount was $862,5000, with varying percentages of institutional matches. The total endowment ending balance as of the end of fiscal year 2020-21 is nearly $2 million. “The results on the report are the results of all the years since the endowment was received — not just this year. Some have improved and are ready to award,” Riddle said.

The WNMU Board of Regents will meet again on Thursday, December 9, 2021, which is the day prior to the fall commencement ceremony.

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