3/25/10

    Northern New Mexico College will seek statewide voter approval in November on a $5 million general obligation bond issue to finance the second phase of its Solar Engineering Research Park and Academy.

    The bond issue is part of a $175.6 million capital projects bill Sen. Carlos Cisneros (D-Questa) sponsored during the special session earlier this month. The bill proposes four separate bond questions. Northern’s money would come from the fourth, and largest, part of the bond issue, a $155.6 million bond to fund college, special school and tribal school facilities.

    The new $5 million would supplement $3 million legislators gave Northern in 2008, including $2 million in capital outlay and $1 million from a statewide bond issue, to start the solar project.

    The first allocation is being used to construct a 9,300-square-foot, one-story building that would contain classrooms and research laboratories for the solar program. The additional money would pay for 15,000 square feet of classroom space and research labs right next to the first building, Capital Projects Director David Schutz said. Both buildings are slated to be built on 14 acres of currently vacant land just south of the college’s main Española campus, Schutz said.

    The extra $5 million would also allow the college to invest $500,000 in a photovoltaic array that would use sunlight to provide electricity to both buildings, Schutz said.

    “We wanted to get more bang for our buck in terms of program space, so instead of asking for $200,000 to $300,000 in phase one for the photovoltaic array, when we realized the money was intact in the legislature for phase two, we rolled the dice and asked the architects to accommodate a photovoltaic array in the first structure,” Schutz said.

    The college also plans to redirect a 2008 legislative appropriation of $305,000 to build a community center into the solar project, Schutz said.

    “It came from the legislature as a community center project as a sort of piecemeal attempt,” Schutz said. “When there’s extra money left over, they say, ‘What do you want?’ We say, ‘We need $3 million for a community center,’ and they say, ‘Here’s $305,000.’ But if you don’t spend it, you lose it. So it’s kind of tough to (fold it into the solar project), but we don’t want to give the money back either.”

    The result will be an expanded lecture hall, which the college will open for public use, Schutz said.

    The college’s Interim Executive Vice President Andres Salazar, who has spearheaded the college’s solar ambitions, was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

    But Interim President David Trujillo said the second round of funding would help fulfill the program’s mission.

    “We need to do this because given the mission of (the Park and Academy), the initial phase-one funding is inadequate to meet those needs,” Trujillo said. “That program is supposed to go up to offering graduate degrees in solar engineering, and we need more space for research facilities than we can buy with the original $3 million.”

    If all four bond questions pass, a taxpayer whose home has a value of $200,000 would pay an additional $16 a year in property taxes, according to the Legislative Finance Committee’s analysis of the bill.

    “I think the voters have been very supportive in the past of these kinds of projects, so we feel good about it,” Schutz said. “Of course that could change depending on what the economy does in the next several months, but we’re optimistic.”

    The college has spent just short of $100,000 of its first round of solar money on a $249,300 architectural contract awarded Sept. 17, 2009, to the Albuquerque-based Dekker/Perich/Sabatini firm.

    Those plans are for the first  building and are in their final phase of development. Those plans should be ready to go out to bid for construction by this summer, the firm's Project Manager Julie Walleisa said.

    Both the House and the Senate passed the new capital projects bill, and the governor signed it into law March 19.

    Northern’s solar program is currently part of the Engineering Department. Students can earn bachelor’s degrees in solar engineering. The college does not offer any master’s programs at this time.

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