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County lists new public health building as a top priority

The county wants to build a new public health facility on a new site to replace the current location on East Chisum Street. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Chaves County wants to construct a new public health building to replace the facility on East Chisum Street and is considering various means for funding the project, including a federal grant.

The project is listed as the top priority on the Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan for 2022-2027, the list required to be submitted to the state by governmental entities to indicate projects for which they might request state funding.

The ICIP list indicates that the county has estimated that the public health facility will cost $3.5 million over two years, with planning to begin in fiscal year 2023, which would start July 1, 2022. That first year, the costs are estimated at about $220,000.

Mac Rogers, public services director for Chaves County, also indicated on Wednesday that the county might want to obtain a federal Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to help pay at least a portion of the project.

Rogers indicated that the county is required by state statute to provide a public health office for the state and that the current site, where COVID-19 testing and vaccinations have occurred, has served the area well during the coronavirus emergency.

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“We are looking to replace it with something that is 10,000 to 12,000 square feet,” he said. “We are looking at possibly putting it on a new site, a new building on a new site.”

He indicated that a property on South Grand Avenue might be the appropriate place.

The current building at the corner of East Chisum Street and Southeast Main Street houses not only the public health office for the New Mexico Department of Health, but also offices for Chaves County Extension Services and the Women’s, Infant and Children supplemental food programs for the Health Department. Rogers said the new building probably would hold the same offices, as well as behavioral health units.

“I think a new building would better serve those with special medical needs and would increase accessibility,” he said. “The current building had some real ADA issues.” ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act.

He said a new building also would offer better air circulation and other improvements.

Dora Batista, executive director of the Southeastern New Mexico Economic Development District, which coordinates efforts of municipalities and counties in the southern part of the state to apply for the grants, indicated that the county could get up to $750,000 from the CDBG program, if it meets the criteria.

One of the major criteria for most projects is that they are in areas of primarily moderate to low-income residents. She said that Chaves County as a whole does not meet that criteria because only 44% of its residents are in those income levels, whereas the requirement is at least 50%. But, she said, the public health project could qualify if the county obtains information showing that the people served by Health Department offices fit the targeted demographic.

She added that Lincoln County created a public health office in Capitan with CDBG funds, while Artesia used the funds to add a dental clinic to their public health facilities.

The county would have to hold additional public hearings to allow community input and the Chaves County Board of Commissioners would have to vote to approve the project for CDBG funding. Most likely, a county application would have to be submitted by June.

The county just closed a CDBG project, the construction of the new Chaves County Courthouse elevator, which is ADA compliant providing a needed alternative to the other public access routes of numerous stairs and a winding ramp often described as steep by many people who have used it. The total project cost was $654,505, with the CDBG grant representing $238,528 of that amount.

Other CDBG projects completed by the county have included design and construction of a mulitpurpose room for the Tobosa Development Center on Summit Street; two street and drainage projects for the Pecos Valley subdivision in Hagerman; and water system improvements in the county.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.