USU plans new Monument Valley building to provide remote classes

Utah State University Blanding plans to build a new facility in Monument Valley. An estimated 68 percent of the student body at USU Blanding is Native American.

Many of those Indigenous students travel daily from the Navajo Nation to Blanding for courses.

Some students attend remote classes in the extension building in Monument Valley.

The building was once a hospital run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and now, after years of service, the building is starting to show its age.

As a result, USU Blanding is planning to build a new building in the community.

USU Blanding Associate Vice President Kristian Olsen approached the San Juan School District about leasing some of the school district land in the area to build the new facility.

Olsen says USU wants the new facility to “honor and respect the students in that area and give them a nice place to be able to learn and study [a building that] is a highlight of the community in the Monument Valley area.”

The school district and university agreed the partnership will be beneficial to both institutions, as it will allow for expanded concurrent enrollment of college courses for high school students.

In December 2020, the school board unanimously approved plans to move forward with the project. There are two possible sites under consideration, one that would have a frontage on Highway 163 and another that would be on the western end of the property closer to the high school. 

Traffic, safety concerns, and existing infrastructure are all factors in the exact location of the building on school district property.

But wherever the new building is placed should be within walking distance of Monument Valley High School.

In an October letter to the school board, the Oljato Chapter expressed their support for the building.

The letter states, in part, “Many of our residents are unable to leave the reservation to attend higher education facilities because of finances and family responsibilities.

“Having the Utah State University Learning Center right here at home opens up so many possibilities to our community members who would otherwise not be able to pursue their educational goals.”

Details of the new building are still being worked out, but it is expected to be larger than the current extension building. The vision includes some classrooms, a few office spaces, and possibly a small community center. 

Olsen says the size of the community gathering place will depend in part on funding. “It won’t be anything major or anything large but something maybe the community might be able to utilize, as there aren’t a lot of options in the Monument Valley area,” he said.

A site survey in the coming months will allow the University to move forward with design work on the building. The site survey can be used to share the vision of the facility with potential donors.

The University also plans to listen to the needs of students and community members as they work on the building.

The USU Monument Valley extension building will likely cost several million dollars and could take several years to complete.

“We’re just at the very beginning stages of this,” Olsen explained. “This is a long process, we’ve got really good local support on it and now what we need to do is start the fundraising process.”

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