SANTA FE, N.M. — Just in time for the spring semester, Santa Fe Community College’s long-planned Higher Education Center will host classes for the first time on Monday.
The center, located at the northeast corner of the intersection of Yucca Street and Siringo Road, is a partnership with four in-state colleges – the Institute of American Indian Arts, New Mexico Highlands University, New Mexico State and the University of New Mexico – offering bachelor and graduate degree programs that students can engage in without leaving Santa Fe.
Continuing education classes by SFCC will also be held at the center and the Santa Fe Small Business Development Center will be located there.
“This is an important step for the community college, but it’s more important to the community itself,” SFCC President Randy Grissom said while touring the facility Tuesday. “We’re trying to make sure there is access to affordable higher education in Santa Fe. We’ve been providing that at Santa Fe Community College, but now we can expand it and make it more convenient for people.”
Making higher education accessible and convenient to local folks is the idea behind the HEC.
In 2009, the community college’s then-president, Shelia Ortego, commissioned a community survey that revealed there was a demand for affordable bachelor-level courses in Santa Fe. Planning started soon thereafter and local voters approved $12 million in bond funding to build the facility in 2010.
Taxpayers will have the opportunity to see what their money bought during a grand opening celebration from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. next Wednesday. The HEC is located at 1950 Siringo Road, off the south entrance to the campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
Building the HEC had the support of Gov. Bill Richardson when voters approved the bond funding, but its realization hit a snag under incoming Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. The state Higher Education Department refused to give the project the go-ahead, contending legislative approval was required.
The Martinez administration also considered the planned HEC an example of proliferation of duplicative higher education campuses around New Mexico that dilute funding and quality. SFCC officials argued that it was the opposite – bringing public four-year degree programs to Santa Fe without creating a whole new bureaucracy or satellite campuses.
SFCC took the dispute to court in 2012 and District Court Judge Raymond Ortiz ordered the HED to review the college’s plans according to the provisions of the law, which mostly had to do with whether bond money was being properly spent and whether the plans conformed with department regulations. The HED’s Capital Projects Review Committee finally gave consent to construct the facility in January 2013.
Tenants moving in
By then, SFCC had already purchased the four-acre plot for the center from the state. Construction started last January and tenants spent this week moving in, absent phone lines and computer connections.
A collection of colors creates a first impression for the two-story, 34,000-square-foot facility. “Rodeo” brown contrasted by a lighter “Maple View” dominate the exterior, with “Legendary” gray trimming columns and railings. An eye-catching “By the Bayou” blue covering exterior walls of the courtyard can be seen through glass as one enters the building.
There’s a large common area with tables, chairs, lamps and partitioned spaces where small groups can gather. On blueprints, it’s described as the “Collaborative Learning Lab.”
“When you walk in the place, you come into an area where you can meet up with other students or faculty,” said Laura Mulry, SFCC’s assistant executive director for marketing and public relations. “The design was to create a collaborative learning environment.”
Fifteen classrooms and flexible instructional labs, equipped with white boards, smart boards and the latest technology, are on the first floor and the upper level.
Interactive television will allow students to sit in a room in Santa Fe and listen to a lecture from a professor teaching at NMSU in Las Cruces, for instance.
A unique feature of the building is that the learning labs, which have amenities such as sinks and restrooms, can be sectioned off from the rest of the building by hallway gates and accessed through a separate entrance after hours. “That’s why they’re called flexible labs – because they can be used in multiple ways,” Mulry said.
Adjunct faculty lounges and seminar rooms for small groups are also located on both levels. “There are lots of nooks and crannies where students can gather for study sessions,” Mulry said.
The C-shaped building creates an outdoor courtyard where students can also gather to study or eat lunch.
The building will be equipped with the latest technology, including wireless Internet with a lightning-fast bandwidth of 600 megabits per second.
Los Alamos National Laboratory, which supports many of SFCC’s advanced technology and trades programs, gave financial support for some of the building’s infrastructure. “I’m hoping we can do some more things related to sustainability,” Grissom said, noting that the building is expected to operate at close to net zero, supported by a 175-kilowatt rooftop photovoltaic array, 72 geothermal wells and LED lighting.
The building was designed by architects Dekker/Perich/Sabatini of Albuquerque. McCarthy Building Construction, also of the Duke City, was the contractor. The building had a construction budget of $10.4 million, SFCC officials said in 2013.
Considering what it took to get the building built, Grissom called the HEC a symbol of what can be accomplished through effort and collaboration. “Even though we’ve been working with these partner institutions for the past several years, having a facility, and a place, shows what is possible,” he said.
Santa Feans can pursue advanced degrees in such fields as business administration, criminal justice, early childhood education, teacher education, indigenous studies and much more without leaving town.
Grissom said the HEC will make it much easier for local students to obtain a secondary degree, be they just out of high school or someone returning to school.
“We’re removing some of the barriers,” he said. “People don’t have to travel, they don’t have to move away, they don’t have to spend that extra time and money.” SFCC already has had four-year partners offering classes on its campus, but the HEC is expected to expand that effort.
Grissom said a student could realize as much as a $10,000 savings by attending classes in Santa Fe the first two years and avoiding commuting expenses.
“In some cases,” added Rebecca Estrada, who’ll serve as director of the facility, “when you’re taking care of a parent, a younger sibling, or you have your own kids or a job and are helping to support your family, (commuting to) Albuquerque is really far away. So it makes sense to be here for whatever real-life responsibilities you may have.”
“We have a lot of students who work in state government, and we have a number of students who work at the hospital and are getting their master’s in health administration,” said Carmen Lujan, UNM’s manager of enrollment services, who was unpacking boxes in her new office. “This makes it so much more convenient for students.”
Lujan and other representatives of the partner institutions are moving from offices located in a basement at SFCC’s main campus.
A city-center hub
“This is huge,” Thomasinia Ortiz-Gallegos, Highlands University’s director at HEC, said of the move. “Not only for Highlands University, but for the whole state of New Mexico. It’s the hub and will provide more accessibility to all of us that are here and more awareness of educational opportunities.
Grissom also used the word “hub” to describe HEC’s location. “This area has really become the middle of Santa Fe and now we have an educational hub here,” he said.
Grissom noted the HEC is across the street from Santa Fe High School and adjacent to DeVargas Middle School, which houses the newly opened Mandela International Magnet School, Santa Fe Public School’s International Baccalaureate school. Santa Fe University of Art and Design is right next door and there’s talk of finding a permanent location for the New Mexico School for the Arts across Yucca Street from the HEC.
Estrada, whose new position keeps her in charge of dual credit programs offered through SFCC, said the location is ideal, especially for students at SFHS or Mandela looking to take dual credit classes.
“Now, instead of driving to the main campus or getting on a bus, they can take their general education requirements here. We’re wanting to make it a seamless transition for students in this community from high school to community college to bachelor’s to master’s.”
Both Grissom and Estrada talk about how local students can take a 2+2+2+2 approach to pursuing their education. They can take dual credit classes for two years while in high school, spend two years taking required courses at the community college, spend another two years finishing up a bachelor degree and another two years pursuing a master’s.
The new facility will also accommodate continuing education classes offered through SFCC. “We haven’t been doing many continuing education classes during the daytime because we didn’t have the space on campus. Now, we can fill in some of the holes here,” Grissom said.
Grissom hinted more partner institutions could be added.
“There are some other universities that we’re talking to. I hope within the next year or so we’ll have other programs that we’ll be able to offer,” he said.
Asked to elaborate, Grissom said there could be more programs relating to culture or the arts and a possibility that an Ivy League school could offer a program in Santa Fe, if only for a summer session.
“We’re trying to expand the breadth,” he said.