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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes says her administration is tapping the brakes on a proposal to move several high school classrooms that now share space with UNM athletics to a nearby building that already houses the rest of a highly rated Albuquerque charter school.
It’s unclear what the consolidation plan, which also involves moving several other entities, would cost.
The plan was the focus of a lengthy piece by a UNM watchdog last month that called it “a Lobo Land Grab,” and Stokes acknowledged the university has been peppered with questions from lawmakers, the Legislative Finance Committee and at least one regent about the proposal.
“We’ve decided to step back and make sure that we understand for ourselves what we’re going to do and then decide what’s going to be in the institution’s best interest,” Stokes told Journal reporters and editors last week.
She said she hopes to speak to Kathy Sandoval-Snider, director of the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science (AIMS), about the school’s needs. That meeting is planned for next week.
Sandoval-Snider said in an interview with the Journal that consolidation is the best choice for the school. She also said she hoped UNM would complete the remodel of the space before next school year.
“We have already had our first construction meeting about that, and it was brought up (whether we can meet the timeline),” Sandoval-Snider said. “My response is, ‘That’s not a possibility. You will make the timeline.’ I have kids that are spread out between two buildings, and that is difficult.”
AIMS – ranked New Mexico’s top high school by U.S. News and World report – serves students in grades 6-12. The charter school, which offers a rigorous college-prep curriculum, first partnered with UNM in 2007. It moved that year into the Science and Technology Park on UNM’s south campus in Albuquerque – which is also where Lobo athletics are located. AIMS is currently spread between two buildings in the technology park.
Plans going back at least a year called for relocating the AIMS classes now in the Student Success Building at 1155 University Boulevard SE – where they share the second floor space with the athletic department’s Lobo Center for Student-Athlete Success – to 933 Bradbury Drive SE, where the rest of the school occupies a 15,000-square-foot space.
The plan also calls for UNM Hospital’s Patient Financial Service to move out of the Bradbury space into other parts of the Science and Technology Park on the south campus. The UNM Medical Group would remain at the building on Bradbury.
The space vacated by AIMS in the Student Success Center would allow “low cost expansion for institutional users” and create an opportunity for the Athletics Department to consolidate its operations there by moving its offices from the Colleen J. Maloof Building.
In a pointed story on the watchdog website NMFishbowl.com, Daniel Libit, who was raised in Albuquerque but now lives in Chicago, accuses Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez of speed-rushing a real-estate scheme in an effort to consolidate his department under the roof of a much nicer and modern building than the accommodations at the Colleen J. Maloof Building.
The article also notes that UNM will lose rental revenue if the plan moves forward, because money that the institution has been receiving in rent from AIMS would go toward covering debt service for the rehab of the Bradbury building to accommodate the expanded charter school space.
Nuñez said he would not comment directly on the Libit article, but did tell the Journal that, “if the opportunity presented itself down the road to be able to put all our operations under one roof and be efficient, that is something we would strongly consider.”
“At this point, our focus is addressing current issues at hand,” Nuñez said, referring to fallout from financial scandals and a controversial decision to eliminate four sports programs.
The actual costs of all the moves being considered at the South Campus have not yet been determined.
But under its current contract, AIMS pays the university $36,371 rent a month. At the current location, the rent will increase slightly each year to $41,073 in July 2022.
The Lobo Development Corporation has agreed to provide a $1.5 million loan to remodel the Bradbury space for AIMS, with funds paid back from the lease payments from the school.
Other costs would be incurred by moving UNMH employees from the Bradbury building, especially if they stay in the Science and Technology Research Park. During a presentation to regents in December, Tom Neale, the university’s director of real estate, said one plan required a $1.4 million investment while a second plan would cost $860,000. A third plan would be to secure lease space outside the technology park, the most feasible, he said.
“Health sciences … they’ve been cramped in some space at 933 Bradbury, so we’re discussing it with them,” Stokes said. “That’s an ongoing conversation at this point.”
One of the reasons university officials have said the move is necessary is concern regarding NCAA recruiting rules.
Stokes said former Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden, who has been serving as a consultant for UNM athletics, expressed his concern with the charter school in proximity to athletic department facilities.
“Not that it was a NCAA violation, but that it increases the probability of an NCAA infraction,” Stokes said. “He didn’t believe it was best practice to have a high school in proximity. He thought that we should move quickly to try to remedy this issue.”
The athletics department asked the NCAA about the current situation in 2018 and was informed that it didn’t amount to a violation. According to the NCAA’s reply to UNM’s interpretation request, the “institution has not and is not recruiting any prospect-aged individuals from this charter school,” but the university “will want to monitor this arrangement to ensure that no recruiting activity takes place in the future.”
Meanwhile, “the possibility of UNM Hospital staff moving to a location that better suits their needs brings with it the opportunity to consolidate AIMS into one building,” said UNM spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair. “These actions are still under consideration, and definitive relocation costs have not been calculated.”
Stokes said she continues “to believe that it would be best if we could locate AIMS in one place, and that we configure the space in the university to better serve the institution.”
“I don’t know for sure what that is at this point,” she told the Journal. “That’s what we’re going to really be trying to make sure we adequately address it.”