[Editor's Note: The Grant County Commission work session on Sept. 6 and the regular meeting on Sept. 8, were both long meetings, so this series of articles will be numerous.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

At the Grant County Commission work session on Sept. 6, 2022, no one gave public input. However, commissioners heard a presentation.

Western New Mexico University President Joseph Shepard talked about a committee formed to develop a vocational center through a partnership with private organizations and county agencies. "We want to expand to commercial drivers' licensing, welding more intricate projects than what we provide now, plumbing, mechanics and more. We need a new facility, because not every child needs to go to college. A welder can make more than a faculty member. I think universities need to be part of a vocational center. We have it as No. 1 on our list. If a project is in our top five, the state says it will help us. It will require county, university, local private companies and the state to get it done."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne thanked Shepard for his support of a vocational school. "But it's so hard to get a building done right now with the lack of workers. I have confusion in my brain. Western came out and applied to become a Liberal Arts School and became one. Does that fit in with this change?"

"Absolutely it does," Shepard replied. "The idea of a liberal arts school is not training you to be a liberal. It's training you to think. How do we move beyond academics? It doesn't mean you can't critically think. There was no designation in New Mexico for a liberal arts college, so we chose it. How do we apply critical thinking to welding? If you can't put it to welding, then it's fairly useless."

He noted that WNMU is not only a bachelor's degree. "We have everything from adult education to the community to certifications, associate degrees, bachelor's degrees and master's degrees."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings noted that he believes a vocational school is No. 14 on the county ICIP (infrastructure capital improvement plan).

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said the commissioners had discussed moving it to No. 6 on the ICIP.

Shepard noted that it would cost about $15 million to build a vocational school.

Browne said the commissioners had tentatively moved it to No. 6, and it shows $5 million for the 2024 fiscal year and nothing for following years.

Shepard said the county might provide utilities and that might be why the number is less. "Our idea is to build the building with your help and with other partners. You would help with the infrastructure, and others, including Freeport could help. They need certain trades."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked if the thinking about the vocational school included solar.

"It is on our radar," Shepard said. "Whether voltaic or thermal, we need trades for renewables. We at the university want to be carbon neutral by 2025. We're at 75 percent. We need two more gigawatts to reach 100 percent renewable. We don't have any infrastructure for electric cars. But along College Street, if you notice the little pedestals sticking up, we have committed to having infrastructure for using renewable energy to charge electric vehicles. It doesn't make sense for people with electric vehicles to have to plug into sources that use fossil fuels. Yes, the new vocational school structure will be carbon zero. We just broke ground on our new softball field, and with artificial turf there and on the football field, we will save 2.5 million gallons of water annually. Water is important to our community. We are also looking at water retention as part of the design."

Edwards noted that some of the sites being looked at for the vocational school will need a lot of infrastructure. Shepard agreed and said the ones the university has looked at lend themselves well to applications for water and wastewater.

The next article will address the extended discussion on the creation of a Health and Human Resources Department.

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