Highlands plans renovations, green projects

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By Don Pace

Highlands University’s five-year capital outlay priorities include the remodeling of the media arts building, renovation of the old Las Vegas hospital property and the old trolley building, and the going-green initiative that aims to make the campus energy efficient.

The Board of Regents approved the plan at its meeting last week.

Bill Taylor, vice president for finance and administration, said, “The media arts major is a very successful program. We’ve had a lot of success placing students, and we have a lot of students that are interested in enrolling. So this is a high-priority program.”

Fries agreed, telling the board about the program’s statewide recognition and the fact that the media arts facilities were not commiserate with the quality of the program. Renovation on the approximately 20,000-square-foot building will cost about $6.5 million.

Fries said there were a number of potential uses for the 61,000-square-foot old hospital building and property, including a sizable parking lot on the site. Ninety percent of the $6.5 million project would come from the legislative funding.

Taylor called the old “trolley” building, which the university owns, a magnificent and historic building, but in need of repair. He said the roof has to be totally replaced, but the stonework is in good shape.

Taylor said Las Vegas was one of two cities in the state to have a trolley system and has a lot of interest in the community and at the university. He said work should start soon before the building starts to fall down. The cost of renovation is expected to be $1.4 million.

The going-green initiative will cost over $1.4 million and will focus on making the Highlands campus environmentally friendly with window and vehicle replacement, energy-efficient appliances and the replacement of lighting fixtures.

The last project on the priority list is the remodeling of Ilfeld Auditorium costing more than $4.6 million.

In other action, the Board of Regents followed academic affairs committee recommendations and voted unanimously to eliminate the computational engineering program and suspend the forensic science major.

Gilbert Rivera, vice president for academic affairs, said the university has struggled, without success, over the years not only to recruit students but also faculty. He said there was not even one applicant last year for a faculty position in computational engineering.

“I think it’s important for us in this part of the state to offer an engineering option to students, but our pre-engineering transfer module is one that works well,” Rivera said.

President Jim Fries told the academic affairs committee earlier in the week that he also had concerns.

“If we don’t have resources in place to offer a legitimate program, then I think we need to be careful about what we’re saying to students. Are we encouraging them to enroll in something that doesn’t exist?” Fries said.

Board vice president Nancy Long chaired the meeting in the absence of president Javier Gonzales. Regarding the forensic science major, she noted that the faculty academic affairs committee recommended that the program be continued and reviewed in two years. The faculty board agreed that the computational engineering major be eliminated.

She said until the university gets the forensic science program in better shape, it isn’t fair to students to continue offering the major. Long said graduates in this field of study are needed in New Mexico and it’s something that Highlands should pursue in the future.

In other business, the regents learned that as of June 16, applications for admission by new students for the fall 2008 semester have increased by 44 percent, or 676 students. So far, students who have been admitted have increased by 19 percent, or 224 students.