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Face-lifts set across UNM campus

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

The University of New Mexico is about to embark on a major construction spree, with six new projects totaling nearly $180 million set to be completed over the next four years.

Among them is a massive astronomy and physics building, which will be the largest classroom building on campus and will transform the Central-Yale entrance. It will also close part of Redondo Drive, the meandering street that runs along the campus’s west and south edges.

While the projects will bring fresh buildings and updated classrooms, they will also reduce available parking – cutting up to 300 spaces.

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Staff with the UNM physical plant department recently took the Journal on a tour of the six sites, which are spread across the far reaches of main and north campuses. The total cost of all six capital projects adds up to roughly $180 million.

The most expensive project – costing $66 million – calls for the destruction of a decades-old water reservoir on the campus’s southwestern corner near the Yale and Central entrance to the university. It will be replaced by the building that will house the astronomy and physics departments and other science programs.

University architect Amy Coburn described the new building, which will be alongside Central Avenue, as “a new public face for the university.”

Plans call for the new science building to expand into a section of Redondo Drive, closing part of the narrow and circuitous route that commuters use to navigate campus.

UNM is working to create an alternative route for motorists, bicyclists and others, said program planning officer Tabia Murray Allred, who guided a Journal reporter and photographer.

Funding for that project comes from a combination of severance tax bonds, UNM institutional bonds and a general obligation bond awaiting voter approval in November.

In another challenge associated with the new science building, the current astronomy and physics departments are located on north campus. Relocating those employees to main campus will mean more people in need of parking spaces, said Barbara Morck, the director of parking and transportation services.

Morck said she estimated that between 250 to 300 spaces overall will be lost on campus as a result of the new construction projects. It’s hard to gauge the impact that fewer parking spaces will have on campus, she said, though her department is looking at the possibility of parking structures.

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Another project is renovation of what’s arguably the most walked-on area of campus, Smith Plaza.

Murray Allred said the stairs in the plaza often require repair. From a distance, a portion of the beige stones bear the dark gray mark of hundreds of thousands of footsteps.

“Smith Plaza is right in the middle of our campus and needs to also be the heart of campus,” President Bob Frank said. “I envision it as a gathering space or common area for students, faculty, staff and visitors to enjoy. It needs to be updated, not only to make it more accessible and inviting, but also to make it more functional and fun.”

The adjacent walkway in front of Zimmerman Library serves as one of the main corridors between the main campus’s east and west sides. The project will cost about $4 million, paid for with a UNM institutional bond.

Construction plans also call for a remodel of Johnson Gym, which used to house many of the school’s athletic teams but is now used as a recreation center for employees and students. Planning for the project is ongoing, but some proposals for new features include a revamped climbing wall or the addition of an indoor track.

The new gym will expand south and will overtake the current route into a parking structure for university guests. Access to the garage, Murray Allred said, will also have to be revamped. The $35 million cost will be covered by a UNM institutional bond.

The Farris Engineering Center is also set for renovation. The exterior elements will be removed, stripped and replaced. An outside entrance and stairs leading to the building will be razed and redone.

Farris’ interior will also be gutted and renovated. Meanwhile, the faculty in Farris will be relocated to other buildings around campus.

That project will cost about $26 million and is funded through severance tax bonds, UNM institutional funds and a 2014 general obligation bond. Work has started and is projected to be finished by late 2017.

Another project calls for the razing of the western building that makes up the Anderson School of Management and replacing it with a newer, larger building. Private donors and severance and institutional bonds worth $24 million will fund that project.

On the north campus, the final phase of the three-phase health education building started in June. It will replace dozens of reserved parking spaces on the north campus.

The building will be directly attached via walkway to a nearby Health Sciences Center building. That project will cost about $27 million and is funded through a combination of severance, state general obligation bonds and money from the HSC Capital Initiative fund.

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