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May 6, 2016

University of New Mexico’s Farris Engineering Center on Verge of Major Redevelopment

Farris-from-ECE-862x566.jpg

Nearly fifty years after the University of New Mexico’s board of regents first approved its construction, the modernistic Farris Engineering Center is about to undergo a major rebuilding.

Located at 1901 Redondo Drive NE, on the south end of the school’s main campus, the building, which houses the school’s chemical engineering, nuclear engineering, and computer science departments, has long been in need of renovation, say school officials.

“They’ve been planning this for years,” notes Karen Wentworth, the university communication representative at UNM, adding that the rebuild of the four-story structure will be the “largest remodeling project on campus at this time.”

Completed in the fall of 1968, the 67,000 square-foot building was named in honor of Marshall Farris in April of 1970, the long-time dean of the College of Engineering.

While the building, with its labs in the basement and offices and classrooms on the top three floors, was regarded for decades as an imposing symbol of UNM’s commitment to the study of engineering, recent years have been unkind to the structure.

In a 2014 video explaining how UNM would put to use a $20.5 million general obligation bond that was subsequently approved by state voters for the Farris rebuilding, Geoff Courtin, a research engineer at the school, remarked that the “infrastructure of this building is not any longer adequate for the type of research that we do.”

In making his remarks, Courtin pointed out obvious signs of water that had leaked from a ceiling onto some of the equipment in one room of the building.

LEAKS IN PARTICLE CHARACTERIZATION LAB (PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO)

Students, meanwhile, have complained about the condition of the bathrooms in the building, with toilets sometimes backing up, loose floor tiles, and an elevator that has been known to malfunction.

“Everyone has also talked about the basement being kind of creepy,” reports Wentworth.

LEAKS IN HALLWAYS (PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO)

A review by members of an accreditation committee of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, after studying the center, judged the structure as unsatisfactory and expressed concerns about future accreditation if the building was not upgraded.

The rebuilding will see a completely redesigned and renovated laboratory space, the replacement of all mechanical and electrical distribution systems, and the construction of ADA-compliant bathrooms, elevator, and main entrance.

“The old building is going to be torn down completely, and then a brand new building is going to go up on the same spot,” says Abhaya Datye, professor of chemical engineering and director of the Center for Micro-Engineered Materials.

What will be left of the original structure will in essence be its bare bones: “Other than the columns and the elevator shaft and the staircase, everything else will be taken down,” continues Datye. “The footprint of the building will expand, and it will look in the end like any of the modern buildings nearby.”

The timeline for the project is swift. “Occupants will vacate the building during the summer of 2016,” says Maria Dion, general manager of planning, design and construction at UNM, adding that construction is set to begin by this coming September.

Target completion date is November 2017, with faculty and staff members moving into the new Farris Center between December 2017 and the following month.

 

In the 2014 video, Ed Blandford, an assistant professor of nuclear engineering, made an additional argument for rebuilding Farris, noting that a new building would “enable us to support students, it enables us to build out our capabilities, and it just overall builds up the stature of the various departments that made up the school.”

Says Datye: “When we have people here doing some really original and innovative work, which has all kinds of impact, that leads to companies wanting to license the technology and maybe coming here and saying ‘We’d like you to do more work of this kind.’”

“But if they come and see really shoddy facilities, they are not going to be as enamored of supporting us,” continues Datye.

“So, that’s one side of the question,” adds Datye. “The other side is attracting new students and faculty—and that is hard to do if we don’t have great facilities.”

 

 

By Garry Boulard

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