UNM officials and the governor broke ground Monday on the 94,000-square-foot College of Nursing and Public Health Excellence building that is expected to be completed by 2024. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal) 

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State and University of New Mexico officials on Monday broke ground on a $43.3 million building that will house – and consolidate – the College of Population Health and College of Nursing.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who spoke at the event, also announced a $15 million investment in nursing programs at higher education institutions across the state made possible through federal funds.

Both announcements came as a health care worker shortage plagues the country.

“If these last 2½ years have taught us anything, it’s that the health and well-being of our state and our Republic are directly linked to the health and well-being of our citizens,” UNM President Garnett Stokes told a crowd of more than 70 on Monday. “This new facility will help ensure we provide our health professionals with the resources they need to do more – and to do good.”

Enrollment growth

The College of Nursing and Public Health Excellence building, just west of the UNM Hospital, is expected to help enrollment more than double over the next six years, UNM officials said.

The facility spans nearly 94,000 square feet and three floors. The building, which is expected to be completed in 2024, comes at a price tag of $43.3 million, according to the university. The general contractor of the project is Albuquerque-based Enterprise Builders. The architect of the building is Albuquerque-based Dekker/Perich/Sabatini.

A majority of the project’s funding came from the state – $30 million was approved through a general obligation bond during the 2020 general election and another $2.5 million that was most recently approved during the legislative session this past spring. The university is covering the additional project costs.

The nursing program currently operates in about seven different buildings across the UNM campus and the College of Population Health doesn’t have a central office. The two will finally find consolidation into one building, with the College of Population Health occupying about half of the first floor and the College of Nursing filling in the rest of the facility.

The lab corridor area of the building will be placed on the second floor where windows will allow passers-by to “see some of the people in there conducting lab experiments,” said Ryan Reynolds, group manager for capital projects at UNM Health Sciences.

The College of Nursing expects to increase enrollment to 328 students by 2024 and up to 432 students annually by 2028, UNM officials said. Currently, the nursing program enrolls a little more than 200 students a year.

“We will also be better equipped to recruit and retain expert nursing faculty and to educate the next generation of students,” UNM College of Nursing Dean Dr. Christine Kasper said.

Dr. Christine Kasper, the dean of UNM’s College of Nursing, speaks to attendees at the groundbreaking for the new $43.3 million College of Nursing and Public Health Excellence building. The state invested $32.5 million into the project. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Additional money

Lujan Grisham also announced $15 million in American Rescue Plan funds for more than a dozen higher education institutions across the state. The money has a focus on the recruiting of high school students into nursing programs, retaining nursing faculty, expanding clinical sites to rural communities and other initiatives to target the nursing shortage.

UNM and its satellite campuses are receiving about $3.5 million, New Mexico State University is set to receive a little more than $1.3 million and other schools – including Western New Mexico University and Northern New Mexico College – set to receive a share of the money as well.

The shortage of health care workers across the country is felt here in New Mexico, too, especially in the nursing category. According to a 2021 report from the New Mexico Health Care Workforce Committee, there were about 15,588 registered nurses and clinical nurse specialists in the state. About 6,223 more nurses are needed to hit benchmarks for the state based on population, according to the report.

A July report from the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions showed that there were more than 9,000 online job postings available for registered nurses.

“New Mexico, like the rest of the country, is faced with a critical shortage of nurses,” Lujan Grisham said. “By investing in the state’s largest nursing program and providing additional resources to programs around New Mexico, we are going to see real progress toward meeting our goal of a healthy nursing workforce.”