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Regents halt work on UNM alumni association project

FOR THE RECORD: This story should have said the university gave the University of New Mexico Alumni Association permission to raise $50,000 for the project.

The University of New Mexico Alumni Association really irked some of the school’s regents after launching a $400,000 reconstruction project it pitched as just a $50,000 touch up. The angry regents have stopped construction, and threatened to implement more oversight of the association and its funding. The project, which Regent Marron Lee called a “complete overreach” Monday, aims to beautify the courtyard area in front of the Alumni Association’s space in Hodgin Hall on the south side of main campus.

It also is intended to honor the longtime alumni matron, Karen Abraham, who retired in late 2015, at about the time the project was introduced to regents and UNM leaders.

On Monday, regents on the Finance and Facilities Committee recalled that, when the project was introduced, the alumni representatives said the project would be a $50,000 maintenance – as opposed to a capital – project. They asked for and received the $50,000 from the university and the right to name the courtyard.

“I thought it would be a few rose bushes and some paint,” Lee said as she scolded Alumni Association President James Lewis, who was not involved in the project when it was presented to the regents in 2015.

The project has turned into a nearly $400,000 venture, regents said Monday.

That extra money, alumni representatives said, is coming from the association, not from the university, and was always a part of the construction plan, which has been known to UNM’s landscaping and project staff, Lewis said.

“When I came on, I was of the understanding that it had gone through the proper process,” Lewis told the regents Monday. “I personally apologize … something fell through the cracks.”

Lee said the association’s “blatant disregard” for the school’s procedures concerning substantial construction projects, and the accompanying approval and communication makes her want to put a regent on the association’s board.

As it stands, the association is an autonomous nonprofit, but the school subsidizes its rent, staff and utilities, and relinquishes to it rights to money from special license plate sales and some special credit card income.

“It has been a gift from the university,” Lee said. “That could be money that could be coming back to the university.”

Details about finance sharing were not clear, but it prompted alumni member Harold Lavender to urge the regents to continue with the construction project so it doesn’t look ugly, and to revisit issues of funding, procedure and protocol as secondary business.

Instead, the regents continued the construction hold and requested a clearer plan from the association to come back to the full board for consideration at its Aug. 18 meeting.