Refuting media impressions that the Espanola-based Northern New Mexico College is down and almost out due to a series of administration controversies, the school is taking on a series of facility improvements showing that life goes on at the small four-year school.
“Everything we’ve been doing this year, construction-wise, has been focused on student services,” says Rick Bailey, the new president of NNMC.
Northern New Mexico College President Rick Bailey, courtesy Northern New Mexico College
“We’re revamping our registrar, admissions, and recruitment offices,” Bailey continues, noting that the resultant student advisement center located in the school’s main Montoya Administration Building, “will give the students a place for one-stop shopping.”
A variety of other actual and planned work on the campus is being made possible due to the passage last November of General Obligation Bond C, a fund providing more than $131 million for New Mexico’s institutions of higher learning, with $1 million of that amount going to NNMC.
Those funds, says Andy Romero, superintendent of facilities at the school, are designed to pay for a variety of campus drainage, water system, and heating and cooling system needs.
“We’re trying to finish our HVAC upgrade which will take the hydroponic type of water boiler system out and put in compu units to reduce costs,” explains Romero.
“Also we’re doing some emergency generator back-up work for our IT main building, so that if we ever go down on electricity, we can still have our servers running.”
Other work includes repairs to the Montoya Building’s patio space, as well as planned upgrades to the school’s Salazar Center for the Arts.
“We have other issues that we would like to take care of with the bond,” continues Romero, noting that even though the $1 million is a lot, it will likely be spent quickly on needed infrastructure work.
Espanola campus, photo courtesy Northern New Mexico College
That anything at all is going on at NNMC may surprise skeptics who have practically forecast the end of the school after the controversial laying off of some twenty employees due a budget shortfall four years ago, and a subsequent decision to dismantle NNMC’s trade programs, which featured carpentry, electrical, and automotive offerings.
In 2014, NNMC faculty and students cast a no-confidence vote in the school’s leadership. The following year NNMC closed its El Rito campus, the same historic campus where the school was launched in 1909 as the Spanish American Normal School.
A more recent challenge confronting the school came earlier this year when the State Auditor’s Office charged that $200,000 had been stolen from NNMC, leading to the resignation of a top official.
Bailey stepped into the maelstrom last October after serving as the dean of students and associate professor of strategy and security studies at the Air University’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies in Montgomery, Alabama.
“There is nowhere else on the planet I would rather be than serving the students, faculty and staff of Northern New Mexico College,” Bailey says when asked if he has had any regrets taking over the leadership of an institution repeatedly characterized as troubled.
“None of our challenges are so great that we cannot overcome them,” continues the 46 year-old president, “and I am confident that we will do that.”
El Rito campus, photo courtesy Northern New Mexico College
As part of a larger effort to show that NNMC has turned the corner, Bailey has even proposed re-opening the school’s El Rito campus.
“A lot of people said the utilities were too high and that it was too costly to operate the buildings there,” says Bailey.
Others, notes Bailey, have said El Rito’s campus “is too far away from everything.”
“So our strategy has been to tackle the utilities challenge head-on and take what everyone says is a disadvantage and turn that not only into an advantage, but a selling point for the campus,” Bailey continues.
To that end, talks are underway between the school and the Taos-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative to install a 1-megawatt solar array on El Rito’s campus.
At the same time, Planet Athlete, a Phoenix-based preparatory school, has expressed interest in operating a student athlete academic program at El Rito that would see nearly one hundred males living in the NNMC’s dorms there.
“They like the idea that the students would be in an environment where they can focus on their studies and athletics, and not have the distractions of a major metropolis,” says Bailey.
Re-opening the campus may require some facility upgrading, but not much, say Bailey, who lauds Romero and his staff for maintaining El Rito’s structures.
Acknowledging that NNMC has endured some tough times in recent years, Bailey, who has won praise from the school’s community since he took office, nevertheless remains upbeat.
He predicts that NNMC’s current enrollment of just over 1,000 students will be double that in the next several years, adding, “Our best years as a college are ahead of us.”
By Garry Boulard
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