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HOBBS SCHOOLS PHOTO The Hobbs Schools Career Technical Education (CTE) Center is scheduled to break ground in October and be operational around January 2022.
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NEWS-SUN PHOTO

A sign on the southeast corner of Millen Drive and the Lovington Highway shows where the new Covenant Hospital will be built. Construction is expected to start this year and be ready by 2022.

Of the variety of construction projects in Hobbs and planned for the near future, two projects stand out both in actual size and importance to the community — The Hobbs Municipal Schools’ Career Technical Education Center and the planned Covenant Hospital.

The $46 million CTE center, which is expected to be ready by January 2022, will offer a high school educational curriculum in a variety of subjects including energy, transportation, manufacturing, culinary and hospitality, IT and construction trades. This would allow high school graduates to start a career in a trade they enjoy, and have already trained for, while also staying in the area.

The $52 million Covenant hospital, which is also set to open in 2022, would improve the overall health care system in Hobbs and Lea County. Originally set as a 108,000-square foot building and employing 200-250 people, the list of clinical services include general medicine, general surgery, OBGYN, women’s health center, general cardiology, general orthopedics and behavioral health. Also planned are 20 general surgical beds, 8 labor delivery/recover and postpartum care beds and four ICU beds.

Both projects offer similar short-term economical benefits to Hobbs.

“It’s really beneficial in two ways on these large projects,” said Economic Development Corporation of Lea County President and CEO Missi Currier. “First is local folks will get back to work as subcontractors. The projects could pick up folks who have been laid off or might be looking for work during this time. Secondly, these jobs will put money in their pockets which we hope will be spent in our local restaurants and retail stores. The more folks we have here working the more folks will be willing to invest in our local economy as they pay rent, buy homes and eat in our restaurants. This will be beneficial not only to Hobbs but also Lea County.”

One short-term benefit from the Hobbs Municipal Schools and the EDCLC is their recent collaboration to compile a list of out-of-work local construction workers and subcontractors in Hobbs who would be available for the work on the CTE’s construction. Hobbs Municipal Schools Superintendent TJ Parks said the program has become very helpful.

“We will create this database of everyone to give them some opportunities to get back to work,” Parks said. “I think it is a great idea.”

The initial long-term benefit is the level of quality jobs both projects would bring to the Hobbs market when completed.

“You’re talking about teachers and health care providers that would come to Hobbs for the positions. These quality jobs are also not subject to the boom and bust cycle,” Currier said. “That means more steady income for folks. That means opportunities for more people to buy homes in the community. Their kids will be in school, which gives the opportunity for them to be in the community longer. That helps everyone’s quality of life as more people come to the community and learn what a wonderful city Hobbs is.”

Covenant administrators said a Hobbs hospital is considered “a $75 million investment” to the area. Its opportunity to greatly add to the health care availability would be considered a great benefit to an area that has suffered.

In 2013, the Lea County Commission funded a study to look at the level of health care provided in Hobbs and Lea County and how much of Lea’s health care needs travel out of the area. It was determined then 54 percent of Lea County residents on Medicare who were admitted to a hospital in 2012 received their health care outside of Lea County.

The study stated if Lea County were to have served 100 percent of those patients in 2012, it would mean an additional $175 million would be spent in hospital care in Lea County that year. With current inflation, that number would be closer to $210 million. However, the possibility of keeping 100 percent of that patient care in Lea County is not feasible at this time. But, if a Hobbs Covenant Hospital were to close the gap and keep half of the estimated 54 percent, it would generate an additional $100 million, annually, to Lea County and its health care system. The Hobbs Covenant hospital is being designed to offer many of the services forcing locals to travel out of town.

“Some of the shortfalls fall in the area of hospitalization, long term stays, ICU (intensive care unit) care and things like that,” said Nor-Lea Hospital CEO David Shaw during the announcement of the new hospital in Hobbs. “Obviously, there are some issues with OB (obstetrics) services being provided in the local community. So, working with the (Economic Development Corporation of Lea County) and working with (Covenant Health System CEO) Richard Parks, we have been exploring for several years the possibility of opening a new hospital here in Hobbs.”

But retaining more local patients is only part of it. Covenant administrators have talked about making the Hobbs hospital a beachfront for area health care in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. What if Hobbs could get area patients outside of Lea County to come to here instead of Lubbock? Patients from communities like Artesia, Carlsbad, Seminole, Andrews, Denver City and Seagraves instead of going to Lubbock or Midland. That offers a whole other economic option Hobbs and Lea County would benefit for decades.

“Most of those (patients) come to Lubbock, to Covenant, anyway. We started looking at what kind of diseases and health issues people were having that were coming to Covenant Medical Center and our children’s hospital and women’s services,” said Richard Parks during the hospital’s announcement. “We decided we’d look at seeing if we can put those services here and have a medical footprint.”

Building a CTE center to offer a certain set of craftsmen and craftswomen is what Hobbs School administrators, and a variety of other experts, have tried to accomplish. But, the center also has to be diverse enough to change those crafts as the area’s industry evolves. As designers continue to tinker with the CTE’s design, the goal of its availability to be diverse remains.

Associated Superintendent of Hobbs Schools Gene Strickland, has been working on the CTE project since it officially became a working idea for the school district around two years ago. He said within the past several months the building has taken on a different look, while still offering all of the original curriculum planned. It was originally a three-story building at about 100,000-square feet.

“We were able to reduce the square footage of the building by right at 14,000-square-feet, and maintain every single program,” said Strickland, who added foundation work on the center is scheduled to start later this month. “It was nice, because we realized we were able to right-size the building, which means the long-term maintenance and upkeep of the building is very much more efficient.”

TJ Parks said another long-term benefit of the CTE is the return investment to the Hobbs community as the graduates stay in Hobbs and create a life. He said for every dollar spent on a CTE program, the return investment is around $7-9.

As part of its versatility, the CTE doesn’t have to teach just high school students. Administrators have opened the possibility for night and weekend classes.

“The ultimate plan is to have a director over it to manage it during the day,” TJ Parks said. “And hopefully, we hire the quality of people that we can hire an assistant so we can offer some night classes. That we can offer some things on the weekends for businesses, which can use our facility for training. We know they are going to donate some things to us for the CTE, so why not have them use our facility.”

The construction of both projects at the same time the local economy struggles is another indicator, despite the current situation, growth in Hobbs will continue.

“I have never seen a community this size take on two projects of this size at the same time,” Currier said. “Especially during a time when the local economy continues to recover from the worst oil crash in history, people continue to invest in Hobbs. Quality of life does matter. You do want to make sure that your kiddos get a great education. You do want to make sure your aging parents will have fantastic quality of life without having to travel two hours to Lubbock, or even further. And bringing those types of businesses to the area not only improves quality of life, but also improves the opportunity to diversify our economic base as we look for other industries that either compliment the schools and health care system or just benefit from the schools and health care system.”