Navajo Tech University set to break ground in Chinle, campus opening by fall 2018

CROWNPOINT, N.M. — On Aug. 2, Navajo Technical University (NTU) began the preliminary steps in constructing a campus in Chinle, Arizona with a groundbreaking and blessing ceremony for the site’s first educational building.

The ceremony took place at NTU’s new 38-acre property located on the old Chinle fairgrounds near the Indian Health Services hospital.

“It’s really exciting for NTU because it’s another new beginning,” stated NTU Chinle instructional site director Arlena Benallie, who was first tasked with getting the Chinle site started in June 2006. “It’s a new direction that will benefit not only NTU, but the community and Navajo Nation as well.”

When Benallie first began the process of starting a new site in Chinle, she was given a $15,000 budget and the specific task of getting classes started within the year. She started by looking for space that could temporarily house classroom instruction, which she found in a 936 square foot building in Imperial Circle, as well as classroom space at Chinle High School.  In the first year, Benallie was able to get nine courses offered, which included subjects like Information Technology, English and Law.

Benallie also began to simultaneously look for a more permanent location for the instructional site, as the Imperial Circle location was only temporary. Eventually she came across some unused Navajo Nation Workforce Development trailers that were sitting idle along Route 7. Although the trailers were in poor condition, Benallie saw an opportunity to renovate the property at a low cost, with the intent of developing a certificate program in carpentry to help with the renovation. By 2007, nearly a year later, NTU formed a partnership with Workforce Development to use the property, and by 2009, the renovations were complete.

As an accredited institution with the Higher Learning Community, NTU’s instructional site in Chinle was able to expand its course offerings from nine classes in 2006 to between 30-40 in 2009. With the increase in courses offered came increased enrollment, and by 2012, the instructional site had well over 300 students registered for classes. The increase in enrollment was a good indicator of the hard work it took to get the Chinle site going, but it also revealed that NTU needed more space, especially once enrollment climbed to over 600 students in 2014.

Once again, Benallie was tasked with finding a location, but this time, a location that could accommodate a full functioning campus complete with classroom buildings, housing and a library, among other resources. The search began with the Chinle Chapter House, which led Benallie to each of the families who owned land within Chinle’s boundaries. Eventually Benallie was introduced to the Gorman family, who was more than willing to assist with NTU’s efforts after Guy Gorman played a crucial role in the establishment of Diné College in the 1960s. 

“We were really fortunate to be able to sit down and hear Mr. Gorman’s input,” explained Benallie, who was able to secure ownership of the land for NTU after a lengthy, two-year process. “[This campus] is what the people have been wanting.”

The first building that is expected to go up will be a 6,000 square foot educational building that begins construction Aug. 7. As construction occurs, a second educational building will go up in September, with both buildings expected to be complete by May 2018. If all goes well, Benallie expects instruction to begin on campus by fall 2018, offering expanded opportunities for students throughout Arizona and NTU in general.

“This new building development will offer an opportunity for Navajo Tech to become an official University branch campus,” said Benallie. “Once we get this approval from the HLC the Chinle branch will be able to offer all the certificate and degree programs of our main location in Crownpoint.”

In addition to the benefits the campus will bring to NTU, Benallie also foresees a direct impact it will have on the town of Chinle and the Navajo Nation.

More information about the new campus developments in Chinle is available from Arlena Benallie at abenallie@navajotech.edu or (928) 674-5764.

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