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          Front Page

APS Offices Can't Be Called Luxe

By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Journal Staff Writer
          A harried security guard stops me in my tracks on this, my first foray into the shiny two-towered building on the hill inhabited by 575 worker bees and big shots of the Albuquerque Public Schools.
        "Stay right there," he says, then turns back to the agitated woman who needs to know where she is supposed to go for her son's truancy hearing.
        She is sent on her way, and it is my turn, only I haven't a specific destination.
        I have come here to see what $12.45 million of our taxpayer dollars bought seven years ago when then-Superintendent Brad Allison (apparently before he crumpled in a blathering heap of booze, pills and self-loathing) convinced school board members that the City Centre building at 6400 Uptown NE was a good investment.
        Remember? Allison had explained that one new building was cheaper to run than the six existing administrative offices scattered across the city, especially since several of the sites were crumbling and in need of expensive repairs.
        Money to buy City Centre would come in part from the sales and shuttering of the old buildings. Any extreme makeover would be paid for with rent checks from existing tenants — until those tenants moved out.
        Which they have.
        "It's virtually a break-even proposition!" school board president Leonard DeLayo Jr. had chirped.
        "I think it's a great investment!" board member John Emery had chimed.
        "It's much more cost effective!" board member Berna Facio had cheered.
        Oh, sure, not everyone was excited by moving on up. Teachers and parents and nearly anyone who would not get an office at the Uptown digs wondered what in the world APS was thinking by plunking down millions for new office space when school roofs were leaking, classes were overcrowding and teaching assistants were making even less than the $12,000 annual salary they do today.
        "It irks the hell out of me," school board member Aggie Lopez had groused. "APS exists because of our children. We shouldn't have plush offices until the kids have what they need."
        It's too late to complain anymore, really. The time has long passed for buyer's remorse. We've done some — ulp — $7.2 million in remodeling.
        Might as well embrace it.
        And so, I am here to embrace, better late than never.
        Only the guard isn't keen on that. He asks me for my photo ID and who I am here to see.
        "Everyone," I say.
        No, that won't work.
        I try again.
        "Community Relations."
        Which, as it turns out, you can't get to from here, at least not in a way the guard will allow. He tells me to take the "catwalk," a slim concrete path that rings the 169,591-square-foot circumference, to the back of the building.
        At Community Relations, I call on longtime APS/media go-to guy Rigo Chavez to act as my tour guide, and he graciously obliges.
        The final touches at Uptown have only recently been completed, he tells me. A large conference room on the first floor was dedicated in mid-August. The folks from Research and Development and Accountability migrated so recently from the Lincoln Complex that their halls are still filled with boxes and the smell of fresh paint.
        Accommodations here aren't posh as Lopez fretted but comfortable, utilitarian, more Holiday Inn Express than Hyatt.
        Basic gravel-colored carpeting and IKEA-type furnishings are the norm. There are no gold-leaf bathroom fixtures, no health spa, no overpriced gewgaws save for a few flat-screen televisions.
        "It's marvelous what you can do with paint and simple but nice furnishings," says John Dufay, director of Operations and Maintenance.
        Even the sixth-floor corner office of APS Superintendent Winston Brooks holds nothing scandalously opulent. It is smaller than you might expect, though it appears spacious and grand given the full-length windows that provide an expansive view of the Sandias and sky.
        Dufay says all the administrative offices slated to move over to City Centre now have, and he assures me that this will in time reap great financial savings.
        With moving delays and the unforeseen costs of bringing the building up to code, though, there has been little reaping.
        And what of the sale of the six properties that Allison insisted would help pay for Uptown?
        That didn't work out so well, either. Except for the site at 725 University SE, which was sold to CNM, the remaining five sites are still in APS' hands.
        Only Stronghurst is being readied for the wrecking ball in the hopes that the property is worth more bare.
        Things may not have gone completely as planned — Allison's tenure didn't go as planned, either.
        But we parents and taxpayers can embrace the knowledge that those Uptown administrators aren't wasting time driving hither and yon and are sitting in office chairs no more cushy than mine at the Journal.
        Meanwhile, school roofs are still leaking, classes are still overcrowding and educational assistants are calling in sick over low pay.
        You can reach Joline at 823-3603 at jkrueger@abqjournal.com.