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Give Recovery Center a chance on Midtown Campus

Apartments like these are being used for a residential drug treatment program on the city-owned Midtown Campus. (Mark Oswald/Albuquerque Journal)

City government should give the Santa Fe Recovery Center a fair shot at staying on the Midtown Campus, the 90 acres of land off St. Michael’s Drive that’s slated for redevelopment since the demise of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design last year.

The Recovery Center has been using 24 apartments on the campus – formerly student housing – as living quarters for about 40 clients. They participate in a 90-day extended residential program, after graduating from a 30-day program.

The clients come to the Recovery Center through self-referrals or referrals by family and friends, from treatment providers or through the legal system, via drug courts or DWI programs.

The center has been operating under an 11-month lease to use the apartments and the city is OK with an extension until the end of the year.

After that, the rental agreement will be month to month, as the city tries to figure out how to redevelop the campus, which city leaders see as an opportunity to create a vibrant urban complex in the middle of Santa Fe. The city considers the Recovery Center’s presence on the campus temporary.

The favored proposals for the campus include apartments, a new higher education institution and film-related economic development based around the existing Garson Studios film studio.

There has not been a big constituency pushing for a drug treatment center there, although Mayor Alan Webber’s Drug Strategy Task Force recommended just that in a recent report.

The drug problem, or opiate crisis, or whatever one chooses to call it has pushed its way to the forefront of national problems and is a growing epidemic locally. The Recovery Center is a respected part of the system that tries to deal with addiction.

Both city and county government contribute funding for its operations, which include the only facility in the state that provides a place where women can bring their young children to live with them while they undergo addiction treatment.

Despite the positive reviews, the Recovery Center has had trouble finding places to provide what everyone seems to agree are critical services other than its headquarters facilities on Santa Fe’s south side, on Lucia Lane and Jaguar Road.

The center wanted to expand to an old church building on Rodeo Road, but that deal fell through over legal requirements of an old loan on the property. Then the Valdes Business Park rejected the Recovery Center’s plans for a facility there because of covenants against residential uses, upheld in court.

So will the city give the Recovery Center a chance to stay on the Midtown Campus, as the center’s managers would like to do?

Kevin Kellogg, the city’s asset development manager, says the center is “one of the most professional organizations that I’ve worked with.”

Mayor Webber says “a community-wide approach that will bring services to people in a coordinated way” is needed to attack addiction problems.

“One of the things we have to do is re-frame the perception from people with addictions being criminals to people who need help,” he said.

Sylvia Barela, the Recovery Program’s CEO, says the residential program on the Midtown Campus has strict rules. Anyone leaving has to check with a staffer and take a breath test upon return. Clients have to undergo regular drug testing. They are subject to removal if they fall off the wagon.

“There definitely is a lot of stigma or belief that there will be problems that will occur, or people think there will be people there using drugs,” said Barela. “But we run such a structured program (that) there was probably more drug use on campus before, because we regulate and monitor it very closely.”

The city has a chance to put its avowed principles of inclusion and caring into practice by at least giving serious consideration to including the Recovery Center in the campus redevelopment plans.

The campus could provide a location that avoids the inevitable controversy of putting even a well-managed residential drug treatment program in the middle of an existing neighborhood. There’s space on the campus for different kinds of uses in different locations.

An eager apartment developer might not want anything like the Recovery Center’s program to be located on the campus. But the city itself can say what goes where.