LAS CRUCES − The architect assisting Doña Ana County in selecting a site for a new emergency management facility recommended moving forward with a parcel of land that appeared to surprise county commissioners at their public meeting Tuesday.
The county Office of Emergency Management had narrowed the selection for its new offices and emergency operations center down to three locations from more than a dozen, but the firm of ASA Architects selected a fourth option that had been suggested by New Mexico State University.
The proposed site is on Geothermal Drive, recently renamed Tortugas Trail, on university land close to two water tanks and the NMSU golf course. The site is also near the University Residence, which is currently used only as an events center.
Consultants from ASA Architects said the site was accessible to existing streets and infrastructure, close to Interstate 25 and local roads and was situated at an elevation that met requirements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is anticipated to contribute $1.5 million in funding for the project .
OEM Manager Stephen Lopez, the former NMSU police chief, said that site also lent itself to partnerships with other agencies that might contribute funding to build facilities they might use as well. As one example, he suggested the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, which is housed at NMSU. Lopez also said the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security was interested in establishing offices there and may contribute funding.
“They are responsible for all agricultural emergencies that occur throughout the state, without having any of the infrastructure necessary to be able to carry out that mission,” Lopez told commissioners.
He added that the location would also be helpful in managing large events on campus, such as games or concerts at nearby Aggie Memorial Stadium. Citing NMSU’s master plan for developing the area, including the Aggie Uptown development near Tortugas Mountain (also known as “A” Mountain), Lopez said additional development will include “fantastic road access in the long term.”
County Chairman Manny Sanchez didn’t see the advantage in locating the center close to campus, citing traffic on Las Alturas and Triviz drives when large events are held at the university. He also wondered about how large emergency vehicles or trucks would navigate some of the established streets and two connected roundabouts (known as a “dumbbell intersection”) located below the University Avenue overpass — part of the I-25/University Avenue project that opened late in 2021.
“The roundabouts are scaled to be able to handle semi traffic,” Lopez said, “because it is a formal interstate on- and off-ramp system.”
Commissioner Susana Chaparro expressed support for the site, saying it would be easy to locate if members of the public needed to gather there during an emergency.
The OEM maintains emergency operations plans for a variety of potential disasters in the county and also hosts training operations. The center would typically be staffed by as few as one or two people, Lopez said, but would also be ready for use as a central organizational or command center during major emergencies.
The commissioners did not vote on the recommended site. The OEM will proceed to negotiate a lease agreement with the university and bring that proposal to the commissioners for approval at a later date. Lopez presented at the meeting that there had already been discussion with the university about modifying the design to expand the proposed facilities from 5.5 acres to 8.3 acres.
There is not yet an estimate on what the project will cost or how it will be funded. The county has included it on its list of requested capital projects for the state legislature.
Lopez said total costs would depend on what improvements are needed at the final site and additional space required by other partners. The architects will proceed with the design with the Tortugas Trail location in mind.
“We hope to have some solid drawings by the end of December,” he said.
Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, [email protected] or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.