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UNM art faculty questioning planned move of studios

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Members of the University of New Mexico art faculty are raising questions about a campus building reorganization they say will cost them one of their best assets and recruiting tools: art studios in a historic campus building.

UNM art department faculty members question a plan to move studios from the Art Annex to the Biology Annex. (Jessica Dyer/Journal)

UNM is relocating the studios and transforming their existing space – a 91-year-old building just off Central, near University, now known as the Art Annex – into the Honors College.

The Honors College must leave its current home at the Student Health and Counseling Center to make way for the center’s own expansion.

The art studios, meanwhile, will move to unused space in the Biology Annex.

UNM Regent Marron Lee says discussions for these moves go back two years, and the plan represents the best use for the buildings involved.

Art department leaders say that the Biology Annex, just west of Castetter Hall, is far smaller and that leaving their high-ceilinged, light-filled current home will have a “dramatic impact” on their programs, describing the Art Annex as a key attraction for UNM’s master of fine arts students.

And at least one internal UNM analysis indicates there is a better option that would cost an estimated $1 million less: moving the Honors College to the Biology Annex and leaving the Art Annex in place.

Patrick Manning, associate chairman of the art department, said during a UNM regents’ committee meeting last week that UNM is competing for the “best students” – the type also getting accepted at institutions like Yale and the Rhode Island School of Design.

The art studios are an instrumental recruitment tool, as graduate students use them for painting, printmaking, photography and more. He called them one of UNM’s “main competitive advantages.”

“The Art Annex, though it needs updates, is actually close to exactly what you would build if you wanted to build a specific studio building,” he said, citing the “beautiful light” that comes through its many windows.

Department Chairwoman Justine Andrews expressed her “grave concern” to the Academic/Student Affairs and Research Committee.

“The impact of this space restriction will reduce our enrollment, diminish our national standing and – since in addition to the excellence of our faculty, our facilities for graduate students are an enormous asset – the program will drop in the national rankings and be less reputable nationally and internationally,” she said.

But the faculty’s objections most likely will not change the course of action, according to Lee, who told the Journal the matter already has been decided.

Lee said this plan allows for renewal of two historic UNM buildings. The moves have been mentioned at multiple public meetings, she said. That includes a fall 2016 Board of Regents meeting at which regents approved a resolution to issue bonds to pay for the Art Annex and Biology Annex renovations and a series of other campus improvement projects.

The projected costs to renovate the Art Annex and the Biology Annex to suit their new purposes total $6.1 million, according to a November 2016 memo from UNM’s budget officer.

But a more recent feasibility study from the UNM Planning, Design and Construction division estimated the costs at $7.1 million, which includes an addition to the Biology Annex to fit the art students’ needs.

Leaving the art students in their current facility, and moving Honors to the Biology Annex (with a new addition) would cost $6.1 million, according to the report dated April 25, 2017.

“The Biology Annex is ill-suited for utilization as art studio and fine arts fabrication space,” the report said. “It is 50 percent too small and would require extensive plumbing and building envelope changes to accommodate both darkrooms and light-filled studios.”

UNM already has issued a request for proposals seeking architectural analysis and design work to refurbish the space while meeting the art program’s needs, according to interim Provost Craig White.

The RFP lists the maximum allowable construction cost at $1.65 million. It notes that an addition may be required to fit the art activity, but it also says the “current budget may not allow for full program accommodation.”

The Biology Annex has 5,928 square feet of available space compared with the Art Annex’s 10,585, according to UNM’s April feasibility study.

Lee disputed some of the report’s assumptions and its cost estimates.

She also touted the benefits of giving the Honors College a higher-profile home – it currently occupies the ground level of Student Health – and putting the art studios into the Biology Annex, which she noted was designed by famed New Mexico architect John Gaw Meem.

“The Honors College is key to our future success at the university,” she said. “While we understand our arts program has been a shining example of what we do well at the University of New Mexico, moving them from the current Art Annex to the Bio Annex, where they’ll have plenty of light where their concerns are not founded – honestly is a win-win-win.”

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