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November 20, 2014

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Lawmakers seeking federal land for three Nevada college campuses

WASHINGTON—Nevada’s delegation is trying to help three Southern Nevada colleges get the federal permission to develop satellite campuses; projects that have been on hold for years, as lawmakers struggled to get the matter onto a perpetually packed Congressional calendar.

The bill Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei filed Monday, with the cosponsorship of Reps. Joe Heck and Shelley Berkley, is the third attempt in five years for the College of Southern Nevada, University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Great Basin Community College, to secure Congress' approval for the transfer of Bureau of Land Management acreage to the educational institutions.

“Our objective is to ultimately have a permanent campus for Great Basin college on that piece of property. That’s the whole idea of it going forward,” said John Patrick Rice, executive director of the Great Basin College Foundation, which waiting for 280 acres at the southeastern edge of Pahrump.

In addition to the piece of land in Pahrump, the College of Southern Nevada is hoping to secure 40 acres in northwestern Las Vegas, at the corner of North Durango Drive and Elkhorn Road, and UNLV is trying to receive permission for a 2,000-acre area along the Las Vegas Beltway in North Las Vegas, that would extend north to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and Nellis Airforce Base.

In its official literature, UNLV says the new campus “will provide outstanding opportunities for development of graduate programs and research facilities,” noting that the College of Engineering especially has taken “an active and very creative role in considering research opportunities in transportation, energy generation, aerospace science, and other activities that require large research facilities.”

For the other colleges, plans are less specialized -- but no less specific.

“Our aspiration has been to have a presence in every quadrant of the city, and in the northwest area, we would like to have a presence; it’s a lot more convenient for students,” said Michael Richards, president of the College of Southern Nevada, which at 40,000 strong is the largest institution of higher education in Nevada.

Richards described the planned campus, which at 40 acres would be about half the size of its other campuses, as including “general classroom and laboratory experiences, much in the same manner as the other three campuses.”

For Great Basin’s planned 280-acre Pahrump campus, the objective is very straightforward: Have a school.

“Right now, we’re operating out of a shared facility on the Pahrump Valley High School campus. Pahrump is the only community of 5,000 or more people in the state of Nevada that doesn’t have a dedicated college facility,” Rice said. “So there’s a real need for it in the community.”

Lawmakers introducing the bill Monday stressed how aware they were of the need in the three communities that would be home to the land grant campuses.

“If Nevada is to build a diverse, sustainable economy that leverages our assets and cultivates new ones, then we need strong institutions of higher learning,” Amodei said in a statement. “As a product of the Nevada System of Higher Education...I’m excited about what [this] means for Nevada’s future.”

“As a former Nevada University Regent and the first person to attend college in my family, I know how critical it is for our students to learn key job skills and to earn a college degree,” Berkley said in her statement. “Tranforming these parcels in Las Vegas, Pahrump and North Las Vegas into additional campus space will give even more of our Nevada students the opportunity to earn a college diploma.”

“This legislation will not only give the Nevada System of Higher Education the ability to expand campuses, but will also provide the necessary resources to ensure student success and a competitive workforce,” said Heck, who as a member of the House’s Committee on Education and the Workforce, may have an opportunity to advocate for the bill’s consideration. “These critical elements are especially important today as we look for ways to create jobs and get Nevadans back to work.”

In the past, Sen. Harry Reid has sponsored similar legislation; Sen. Dean Heller also supported an earlier version of the bill when he was in the House of Representatives.

Despite delegation-wide support, however, the bill has fallen by the wayside every Congress, like so many others that just never seem to come up for consideration.

So what makes school officials think this year will be any different? Nothing much, in fact -- except the idea that fate might reward their patience.

“It’s the third time the bill’s been introduced,” said Richards. “We’re hoping that the third time’s the charm.”

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