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Bond question would provide $30M for UNM nursing building

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The ball was already rolling on the University of New Mexico seeking $30 million in general obligation bond assistance for a new Nursing and Population Health Building long before a pandemic struck.

But the harsh realities of the past six months living through a pandemic may have been as effective as any pre-election campaigning at highlighting the need for more nurses in our state and, in turn, the dire need for expansion of UNM’s nursing program.

The new nursing building would allow the school’s nursing program to increase substantially.

“I think the responsibility for keeping our vision focused on the creation of top-notch, high-level nurses for the state is absolutely crucial,” College of Nursing Dean Christine E. Kasper said.

But that’s tough to do with current facilities.

Instruction, research and all other operations for the university’s College of Nursing are currently scattered across eight buildings throughout campus. Without expansion, the program is forced to cap at about 128 the number of new applicants it can accept per year.

The general obligation bond question – Bond Question C, as it appears on this year’s ballot – is by far the largest of the three general obligation bond questions this election cycle. Bond C seeks voter approval for the state to release $156.4 million for facility upgrades, renovations and other projects at the state’s 33 higher education institutions, special schools and tribal schools. Approval of the bond would not increase property taxes.

The $30 million sought for a new Nursing and Population Health Building has the largest dollar figure attached to this year’s project proposals.

According to the New Mexico Health Care Workforce Committee annual report released Oct. 1, there were an estimated 15,539 registered nurses and clinical nurse specialists practicing in New Mexico in 2019. That represents a “shortage” of 4,234 relative to the benchmarks for the state based on population, the report states.

At UNM, nursing program enrollment has increased 102% since the fall semester 2014, Kasper said, “and that’s having identical space and size” for instruction, labs, research spaces, and staff and administrative offices.

The new 84,500-square-foot building would be constructed at UNM’s Health Sciences Albuquerque campus, eventually allowing for a comfortable doubling of new applicants accepted each year to 256 without current space or logistical constraints.

“Everything would be consolidated into one building,” Kasper said. “And then there would be additional space to expand undergraduate education, as well as the nurse practitioner education (and all other programs).”

About 60% of the building would be shared space learning and collaboration with the College of Population Health, which is still relatively new, having been founded at UNM in 2016.

New Mexico requires general obligation bond measures to be approved in the same Legislative session by both the House and Senate with a majority vote to make it on a ballot for voters. Bond Question C hit that mark easily this past session without any opposition (66-0 in the House, with four representatives not voting, and 41-0 in the Senate, with one non-voter).

In all, UNM campuses stand to benefit to the overall tune of $51.4 million – $30 million for the HSC Nursing & Population Health Building; $13.2 million for five projects addressing main campus infrastructure upgrades, including Wi-Fi improvements; and $8.2 million for facility upgrades at four branch campuses (Gallup, Los Alamos, Taos and Valencia).

Other upgrades around the state include a total of $30 million for New Mexico State University’s main campus and branches around the state, and about $75 million for such upgrades as repairing roofs, installing security cameras, new heating and air conditioning duct work, and paving parking lots at the rest of the state’s higher education institutions.

While Bond C is the headliner at $156.4 million, it is just one of three general obligation questions on the ballot.

GO BOND A: The first general obligation bond question on the ballot covers $33.3 million for senior centers. The 96 facility upgrade projects included range from basic infrastructure upkeep to addressing compliance issues and vehicle purchases.

The highest-dollar projects include $4.7 million for the Hillcrest Senior Center in Clovis; $2.8 million for the Pueblo Pintado Senior Center in McKinley County; $2.5 million for the Mary Esther Gonzales Senior Center in Santa Fe; and $1.6 million for the Mariano Lake Senior Center in McKinley County.

GO BOND B: The second general obligation bond question is for $9.8 million for acquisitions at public, school, tribal and higher education libraries around the state.

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