Bracing for growth

Freedom New Mexico: Argen Duncan Dr. Arnold Etkins fills out paperwork in the Roosevelt General Hospital emergency room. Planners believe Curry and Roosevelt County hospitals have the capacity to handle expected the population growth from Cannon Air Force Base.

By Argen Duncan: Freedom New Mexico

The communities in Curry and Roosevelt counties are well positioned to take on growth, but will need to expand in health care, education and housing sectors, according to planners.

Albuquerque-based Keystone International consultants are finishing the Local Growth Management Plan, which the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment largely funded.

“The region should be pretty encouraged,” said Keystone chairman Gary Van Valin.

Van Valin said the area would only see major problems with growth if nothing were done to prepare for it, which he couldn’t imagine happening. Officials across jurisdictions work well together and aren’t ignoring issues, he said.

With growth at Cannon Air Force Base, efforts to bring in more businesses and the draw of area attractions, Van Valin expects the population to grow over the long term.

Planners anticipate Cannon alone will grow by 3,400 to 5,700 personnel, according to Keystone information. Local Growth Management Committee chairman Lonnie Leslie said the base is expected to reach its peak population in 2015.

“The areas that are most critical are housing, education and health care,” Leslie said.

The 350 new base personnel expected this summer create an immediate need for housing, and the committee is planning for high-range growth in the long term. According to the plan, existing inventory can support low-range growth of 3,400, but the area will need 1,700 homes and 500 apartments if 5,700 new people come.

Leslie said a housing committee would work with local governments, developers, homebuilders and utility companies to create the residences.

For education, he said area superintendents are confident they have room for more students.

“It seems, as we’ve studied education, the largest need will be for additional classrooms in Clovis Municipal Schools,” Leslie said.

Leslie’s committee has worked with the Clovis schools District Facility Planning Team, which has recommended building a third middle school and moving sixth-graders into middle schools to free classrooms in the elementary schools.

In health care, Leslie said current needs are affected by but not limited to providing for Cannon personnel.

“We have a need for additional doctors and dentists with or without the growth of Cannon due to increased need of the community and retirement of doctors and dentists currently located in the area,” he said.

For Cannon’s growth, Leslie said, research reveals a need for more orthopedic surgeons and mental health practitioners.

To recruit the providers, he expected to use national advertising.

Hospitals, on the other hand, are currently sufficient to handle the anticipated increase, Leslie said.

For continued planning, Roosevelt County Economic Development Corp. Director Greg Fisher said a joint land use study among the city and county governments and the base would be beneficial.

“I think we have an opportunity in this region to kind of jump ahead in best practices that involve land use and smart growth,” he said.

Smart growth drives economic development, Fisher continued. Because the region is less developed, he said, planners have a chance to skip the mistakes of other places.

By the Numbers:

• next 3-6 years to see increased growth

• 3,400 to 5,700 more personnel expected at Cannon Air Force Base

• 350 new Cannon personnel expected this summer

• up to about 2,200 new housing units needed

• 30-33 new classrooms planned for Clovis Municipal Schools

• 20 percent to 25 percent of Clovis economy impacted by Cannon

• 8 percent to 10 percent of Portales economy impacted by Cannon

• 50,000 people expected in Clovis and immediate vicinity eventually