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NMSU's Corona Center moves toward groundbreaking of educational facility

CORONA, N.M. - Leaders are eager to break ground this fall for an educational facility at the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center (CLRLC) that will provide a richer learning environment for New Mexico State University students and others through distance education, field trips and support for graduate research projects.

This drawing represents what the Southwest Center for Rangeland Sustainability at the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center might look like when it is completed. The center will give New Mexico State University the chance to offer students more educational opportunities through state-of-the-art technology. It is expected to be complete in 2010. (Courtesy of Mark Petersen)

The Southwest Center for Rangeland Sustainability is expected to be complete in 2010.

"It's going to give us a better ability to continue our programs, such as our field days and half-day colleges," said Shad Cox, the ranch manager, who will also be in charge of the center.

"We'd like to offer a lot of smaller, intensive programs," Cox said.

NMSU's Corona Range and Livestock Research Center, including the new sustainability center, is one of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics' Agricultural Experiment Station off-campus science centers. It will be available for use by other organizations within the university, such as NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, as well as outside agencies.

The highly anticipated facility will have state-of-the-art tools that will use satellite technology to assist in disseminating material to students. Students will be able to tie-in their laptop computers to programs being demonstrated by a researcher from CLRLC.

"From there, we will be able to go out the door onto the range to demonstrate, hands-on, the material that is being discussed," said Mark Petersen, the facility coordinator.

And, with computer technology that brings students and researchers information in real time, they will be able to do such things as monitor livestock on the ranch through an electronic collar that is relayed to nodes placed around the ranch and then sent to the sustainability center.

Petersen said there are researchers nowadays who are dependent on electronic monitoring to conduct their work.

"Another item we cannot forget will be the efforts by the NMSU Water Institute and the Institute for Energy and the Environment that will start a new demonstration initiative producing domestic high-quality water from well water at the center and energy from alternative sources," Petersen said, such as wind and solar power. "This is a very exciting since we will be integrating land, water and energy all at one site."

Cox said that with distance education, students in the area would be able to take courses without having to drive three hours to the main campus. People at the rural facility will be able to interact with anyone in the world with the technology available. Whatever the needs are of the students, workshops or classes will be assembled to meet them, Petersen said.

Besides being used by NMSU students, researchers and the Extension Service, the facility will also be available to outside agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management.

"This is one example," Petersen said, "to have workshops, to have the technicians get up to date on technology in land management."

The facility will be available to people involved in energy or water groups, as well as hunting, big game wildlife management and other such groups.

"It really will be a unique facility," Petersen said.

The students can spend the morning in the classroom and then go out into the field for hands-on experience in the afternoon.

Another focus group being looked at are people moving into the subdivisions cropping up around the established ranches. Such people, Petersen said, might have little or no experience with rangeland management.

Through the facility, they will be able to put together workshops on topics ranging from invasive plants in the area to water issues for the new residents.

"That's a group we've selected to give outreach to," he said.

Topics of interest will deal with quality of life issues faced by people who live out in the country, such as alternative energy production and rural concerns.

Petersen said the center would also have a small-scale desalination prototype for researchers to use.

"Once this thing gets finished and rolling, I think there's going to be a lot of requests for this area," Petersen said.

Scott M. Shafer, who serves on the center's advisory committee, said this will be a huge opportunity for NMSU to teach to a brand new kind of audience, not just in the area of agriculture. Researchers at the center would be able to show the practical application of such things as alternative energy sources, including wind and solar as well as water enhancement.

"The center is going to be an opportunity to show the integration of different disciplines and it will be applicable to almost anyone who lives in rural New Mexico," he said.

The center will be located 1-1/4 miles northeast of the ranch headquarters.

"It's a real pretty site," Petersen said, adding that students will enjoy a view of the Gallinas Mountains from the facility.

The main lodge of the facility, which includes a multi-purpose room, library, kitchen, offices and meeting rooms, will be 4,500 square feet. The center will also have sleeping quarters for students.

Participants and members of the advisory committee first saw a need for the sustainability center at the 2005 Triennial Field Day when more than 200 people attended the event. Cox said they will be able to put together and host more programs if they do not have to clear out a barn or set up tents to accommodate people.

The estimated cost for the project is $3 million.

The advisory committee led the efforts in the 2007 and 2008 sessions of the New Mexico Legislature to secure funding for the project. Petersen said they have received $1.5 million toward the project, half of what they need. Now, he said, the university is looking toward other resources to get the remaining funds. He said he also believed the committee would once again go to the legislature to get funding to get a needed laboratory to support the center and acquire futuristic electronic remote sensors that will measure hydrology changes in relation to juniper removal, plant growth dynamics and habit use by beef, cattle, sheep, mule deer and pronghorn while assessing the maintenance energy requirements and activities.

"These research support materials will greatly enhance the quality of our research and the experiences our students have while conducting scientific studies," Petersen said.

Petersen said through a federal initiative with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the center would receive $750,000 each year for the next three years to support infrastructure needs, such as electronics.

Since they are still looking for funding to complete the project, Cox said the facility would most likely be built in phases as the funding becomes available.