Artist rendering of proposed Next Generation Learning Center. The VLA array operations building is upper right in the picture.
Courtesy NRAO

The planned Next Generation Learning Center at the Very Large Array needs almost $21 million in state funding after the project was unable to secure federal funding. The Socorro County Commissioners have agreed to act as a fiscal agent for the NRAO’s proposed Next Generation Learning Center, which will focus on science, technology, engineering and math education.

The learning center would be a visitors center museum, which would offer STEM education in Socorro and is designed to attract visitors from across the state.

It would be adjacent to the VLA operation building. The structure would begin with a remodel of an old cafeteria building that is not in use.

Previously, the Socorro County Commissioners passed a resolution to support the learning center, which was one of a dozen letters the NRAO sent to New Mexican senators, who forwarded the funding request to the Senate appropriations committee.

But the requested funding was not added to the federal appropriations bill. However, New Mexico’s Secretary of Economic Development Alicia Keyes encouraged the NRAOto request a special appropriation for capital outlay funding at the state level, said NRAO Public Information Officer Dave Finley.

Finley said that the funding request would not interfere with the County’s Infrastructure Capital Improvements Project requests. If the funding were approved, the money would go from the state to Socorro County. Socorro County would own the building and lease it to NRAO. NRAO would handle all maintenance and operations of the learning center.

The county would have to submit reports that NRAO prepares to the state, receive the funding and disburse it to NRAO.

Finley estimates it could bring 50,000 visitors annually to the county.