continued big renovation of university of new mexico chemistry building dependent on november bond passage
A structure, originally completed in 1952 that has served more than three generations of students on the main campus of the University of New Mexico, may soon see up to $16 million in renovations.
“This building still has its vintage 1950s electrical system, and that’s not good,” says Stephen Cabaniss of the Clark Hall, which houses the university’s chemistry and chemical biology department.
“This past winter we actually had the heating system in the main lecture hall die completely.” Cabaniss, a professor of analytical and environmental chemistry at UNM, continues, “Students were being taught with the temperature at around 40 degrees F.”
Faculty members and students have also complained about the building’s faulty electrical and plumbing systems, as well as the structure’s leaking roof.
All of that will change if voters in November approve the statewide General Obligation Bond D, which will provide up to $128 million for higher education facility construction and upgrades across New Mexico.
Of that amount, exactly $16 million will target the renovation of Clark Hall, also popularly called the Chemistry Building. The structure, designed by legendary New Mexico architect John Gaw Meem, is located on the west central side of the campus.
Built during a roughly one-year period in the early 1950s for $489,000, Clark Hall is named in honor of John Dustin Clark, a long-standing chemistry professor at UNM. The Riebsomer Addition to the building is named after former chemistry professor and department chairman Jesse Riebsomer.
The planned renovation project is actually the second phase of an effort launched in 2013 after New Mexico voters approved a general obligation bond of the year before providing $16 million in funding for the initial phase.
“All of that is now done,” says Cabaniss of the first phase work, which was focused on lab renovations, renovating bathrooms for Americans With Disabilities Act compliance, and new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing system work.
The new project will focus almost entirely on the remodeling of nearly 39,000 square feet of Chemistry Building space, along with the completion of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.
Phase II work will also see the modernization of offices and classrooms in the building.
Additional work will include the remodeling of the school’s Chemical & Research Laboratory Supplies storage and services area, which will include an adjacent storage and transportation yard, and a reconstruction of Clark Hall’s auditorium.
Also slated for work in phase two is the completion of some 8,300 square feet of shelled research lab space, providing modern and high-tech research space to be used by both UNM students and faculty.
The phase two completion project, says Cabaniss, will also serve an important public relations function for UNM.
“Students first seeing the condition that the teacher labs have been in have not been impressed,” he says. “There are high schools in the area that have better teaching labs than we have had for our upper classmen.”
“And it has been discouraging to the faculty as well,” Cabaniss continues. “They have said that they want to be at a university that is serious about supporting their research, not one where they have to constantly be worried about the quality of the power supply or air handling.”
In an interview with the school’s Daily Lobo newspaper, Karen Ann Smith, research facilities director for UNM’s Chemistry Department, additionally remarked: “We think that we will be able to provide the students with better lab experiences that are climate controlled and experiments that are more relevant to what they’re going to be doing looking forward from UNM.”
The phase two renovation work will most likely see planning beginning next year, with actual construction starting in 2020 and possibly concluding by the summer of the following year.
If passed, Bond D will additionally provide just over $4.2 million for a project at UNM’s Taos campus which will see the construction of a new building for the College Pathways to Career Center.
Another $7 million in Bond D funding will go for the construction of a Reserve Officer Training Corps building that will house the Army, Navy, and Air Force programs on the main UNM campus.
By Garry Boulard
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