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UNM considering fence around Main Campus

A rendering shows a proposed perimeter fence at an entrance to UNM. (Source: UNM)

The same entrance to the University of New Mexico as it looks now, without a fence. (Albuquerque Journal)

The same entrance to the University of New Mexico as it looks now, without a fence. (Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A new border wall is being considered for New Mexico.

No, it isn’t President Trump’s wall on our state’s southern border, or another privately funded barrier like the one being erected in Sunland Park.

This one would be a 10-foot-tall, wrought-iron fence with sharp points at the top, stucco portals and a metallic wolf staring down people who try to pass through. And it would be situated in the heart of Albuquerque, serving as a security barrier between New Mexico’s largest public university and the rest of the city.

The proposal is contained in a 45-page “Main Campus Perimeter Security Access Study,” commissioned by the University of New Mexico.

UNM officials aren’t saying how seriously the proposal is being considered. A spokesman for the university said in an email that the estimated cost of the project was about $1.6 million.

“UNM is continuously evaluating all possible solutions that improve safety for our campus community,” UNM President Garnett Stokes said in a statement. “There are no imminent decisions about perimeter security and any strategy involves multiple things to consider before moving forward.”

The university paid Safeguards Consulting, a South Carolina security firm, $53,000 for a “main campus perimeter security access study,” which was completed in January. The Journal obtained a copy of the study through an Inspection of Public Records Act request.

The study was done after the university issued a request for proposals for a security master plan that would detail current security threats, suggest possible solutions and estimate the cost for each proposal. The request was issued last October.

Map of proposed fence Consultants suggested 13,000 feet of 8- to 10-foot tall fencing around the main campus. They considered a barrier along Lomas, Girard, University and Central, with different options for the perimeter on the north side of the campus. There would be more than 25 entrance or exit points around campus.

The study suggested keeping out unauthorized vehicles at “controllable vehicle portals” through the use of card readers or closing the entrances manually. And at pedestrian entrances, access could be controlled with turnstiles or swinging gates.

It would be difficult and time-consuming – but not impossible – for someone without a key card to climb over the 8- to 10-foot tall fence, the university’s consultants said.

“It does not have to be assumed that UNM will keep the perimeter secure at all times,” the study says. “A common approach to a secure perimeter is to have several ‘main’ pedestrian and vehicle entrances unlocked during normal daytime hours.”

Buy-in needed

The consultants said in the executive summary that such a project would be a significant change for the university.

“Significant changes to the campus environment such as these will need proper communication and community acceptance to properly implement a secure campus and to improve the security culture on campus,” the study states.

Although they did not recommend it, the study’s authors said the university could build a perimeter fence and leave the entrances open at all times, as well as build the fence in phases.

“Ultimately, the perimeter improvements will have an effect on how UNM is viewed by visitors as well as the community,” the study says. “So internal discussion and approval is needed before and during any improvement project.”

University officials said that parents’ concerns led to the consideration of a perimeter wall.

“I talk to the parents going through orientation, and in almost every session, the parents talk about homeless individuals coming on campus and ask, ‘What can you do to stop this.’ Well, we’re an open campus. That’s how we’ve always been,” said Rob Burford, the university’s compliance director. “I know this fence or whatever is out there. Parents have asked directly, ‘Why don’t you have something like that.’ ”

Burford, who compiles UNM’s crime statistics, said he didn’t know if the perimeter fence would affect on-campus crimes. He said many of the reported crimes, especially car thefts, happened on the north or south campuses, which wouldn’t be included in the main campus perimeter.

“There would be a lot of conversations if we ever did put up something like that here,” he said. “The community would be scratching their heads. Why would we be shutting ourselves off from Albuquerque?”

Officials with UNM’s Faculty Senate declined to comment. The university’s Staff Council president said that, as part of a universitywide task force on public safety, the group would expect to be involved in future conversations if the project is seriously considered.

“I also recognize that our university has to balance two important concerns: the safety of our students, faculty and staff, as well as community members who join us on campus, and the desire to be open and to serve the public through our role as the University for New Mexico,” said Ryan Gregg, the staff council president. “I appreciate that President Stokes and her administration are taking both of those concerns seriously.”

Crime wave on campus

Colleges are federally mandated to report crime statistics, and the university’s 173 reported motor vehicle thefts in 2016 was much higher than any other university in the country. In 2017, the number of motor vehicle thefts rose to 211. There were also 18 rapes reported on campus, 39 burglaries and 15 aggravated assaults, according to campus crime data.

Last year, UNM’s Communication and Journalism Department added key-card doors to limit access to its building to those with university identification. The college’s building is next to Central Avenue, and the additional security measure was put in place because nonstudents were locking themselves in bathroom stalls for hours, leaving behind needles and congregating in the student lounge, according to college officials.

Unlike many large state universities, UNM is in the “urban center” of Albuquerque, where crime, notably car theft, and violence are ongoing concerns. The campus’ southern border is along Central Avenue, a high-crime corridor with a large number of panhandlers and transients.

But many spots throughout campus draw people from the community for nothing nefarious. Johnson Field near Central and Stanford on the southeast corner of Main Campus is a popular jogging spot. Popejoy Hall brings in people interested in performing and visual arts. It’s not uncommon to see a family enjoy a picnic at the campus Duck Pond.

The study says that UNM has what the consultants refer to as a “very open campus environment that does not currently prohibit access to the Main Campus by anyone, whether authorized user, casual trespasser, or criminal.”

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