LOS LUNAS – After years of saving and planning, The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus will be able to begin construction on a new workforce training center in the village of Los Lunas early next year.
“We knew that Los Lunas was going to (be an area) of considerable development and we began to feel very strongly with all the business and industry coming into that area, it would be the perfect location,” said Alice Letteney, UNM-Valencia’s chancellor.
The new training center will be located at 1020 Huning Ranch East Loop SW.
The center will offer classes and training focused on manufacturing and industry, as well as “soft” skills that local business owners say are needed in the workforce.
“We did a survey a couple years ago and interestingly enough, one of the major things business people asked for was soft skills – communications skills, the ability to work in a team – that is critical,” Letteney said.
The center will also offer hands-on training for skills such as welding and computer skills, she said.
“With this space, we can offer any kind of course local industry wants. For those industries located right there, we could use their operation to do some on-site education,” the chancellor said. “We also have a big space for all kinds of career technical training.”
Rick Goshorn, director of business operations for UNM-Valencia, said the plans for the center include a large bay area where the university can bring in equipment, such as a large plastic injection mold so students can use machines that are on factory floors.
Additionally, the Small Business Development Center will have space at the training center. The SBDC will maintain its offices at the UNM-Valencia campus in Tomé, Letteney said, as well as continuing to meet with business owners and business start ups in Belen and Socorro as well.
After working closely with Albuquerque-based Studio Southwest Architects, Letteney said the 19,400 square-foot facility will complement the local landscape.
“It is a beautiful site; you can see the mountains and Studio Southwest has designed some buildings that are perfectly designed to fit into the landscape,” she said.
Because the new center is near residential areas, Goshorn said the building will be only one story.
“We met with citizens and the village council and views are very important to people who live around there,” Goshorn said.
The nearly $8 million for the center won’t cost the state or local community anything, Letteney said.
“Since before 2006, we have set aside a little every year through very frugal work with the budget,” Letteney said. “Thanks to those incremental set-asides, we have the money we need.”
Goshorn added no state capital appropriations or bond funds are being used for the project.
“Local bond funding was instrumental in helping us with facility maintenance and renovation costs, (at the campus in Tomé) which facilitated the ability to save for the workforce training center,” he said.
The center will be built on nine acres donated to the university by the Huning Ltd. Partnership, Letteney said, with an option to receive an additional nine acres immediately to the north in the next five years.
“This building uses about 45% of the original nine acres,” Goshorn said.
The new campus, which is west of Interstate 25 and south of N.M. 6, Los Lunas’ Main Street, is roughly halfway between N.M. 6 and the future I-25 interchange that connects a new roadway near Morris Road to N.M. 47 east of the interstate.
“We think it will draw people from Belen, maybe even Socorro,” he said.
The new center was almost a go in 2017, after receiving approval from both chambers of the Legislature, but was ultimately vetoed by then Gov. Susana Martinez. Any capital project has to be approved by the State Board of Finance, which is overseen by the sitting governor; the new center received board approval on Dec. 15.
Goshorn said the plans for the new center should be completed this week and anticipates a ground-breaking ceremony in late January or early February to kick off building.
Letteney said community members have been asking when the project would be completed for several years now.
“This project, other than our nursing program at the Tomé campus, has been really the most popular in the community. It’s had the support of all our legislators, all the mayors, local business people, the chambers of commerce,” she said. “It’s been an absolutely wonderful experience to know how much support this program has.”
Letteney said she didn’t anticipate any conflict or competition for students between the new training center and the existing UNM-Valencia campus in Tomé. The current campus is east of the Rio Grande, just off of N.M. 47, a rural two-lane road, between Belen and Los Lunas.
“If you think about the population growth and people coming home from work, the center is right off the highway and people can go right to that new site,” she said. “Our existing campus has wonderful science labs, computer labs, our nursing program.
“This (new) campus will not only cater to the workforce, but we see it as a feeder campus for Tomé. I think a lot of people will start by taking a computer class and then want to take English and communications, and I think it’s very clear they are going to come to the Tomé campus.”
The chancellor continued, saying the university also participates in a great deal of dual enrollment with local high schools.
“We are very grateful to the people of the county because they have invested so much in the Tomé campus,” she said. “We do a lot of classes in different places. I don’t anticipate there being a conflict.”
Ralph Mims, recently retired economic development manager for the village of Los Lunas, said he saw a lot of economic spill over coming from the training center.
“Any time a facility like this is off a freeway, you’re seeing retail, you see other industries that want to connect with a university,” Mims said. “I can also see further business growth around the new interchange. We have land available on N.M. 6 that is zoned for retail and business.
“We have the Los Morros and Huning business parks, the rail park. When an industry is looking at coming to the village and we have a campus that can train a workforce right there, that could be a carrot to bring in those businesses.”