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University building opens with fanfare

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By Jen Treacy
For the Optic

More than three years after construction began on New Mexico Highlands University’s Student Union Building, the school held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate its completion.

The ceremony was held on Friday and featured performances by the NMHU Mariachi Band Vaqueros de la Sierra and speeches by many involved in the project. The reception provided light refreshments, including catering by cafeteria company A’viands and samples provided by Einstein Bros., the new student center café.

The event began with a parade of international flags to represent the nationalities of current Highlands students. There was also a banner for students and faculty to sign that will eventually end up in a time capsule to be opened in 50 years. The banner was created by professor Kerry Loewen’s media arts students for a gala last year. The heads on the ends of the scrolls represent the four faculty executive members and were printed using a 3D printer.

“This is an exciting day for Highlands and the community of Las Vegas,” said President Jim Fries in his opening remarks. “This school has needed and deserved a good student center.”

He introduced many of the local public servants and dignitaries in attendance, as well as the Board of Regents and the architects and construction groups involved in the project.

Of the unexpected delays he said, “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. I think we have made a pretty good pot of lemonade today.” He also joked that he planned to be present when the time capsule is opened in 2063.

Leveo Sanchez, chairman of the Board of Regents, spoke about how Highlands has served the community throughout the years. He attended Highlands as a senior in high school after Highlands High School burned down in 1947.

“I never thought I’d see this kind of building,” he said before predicting a boom in students for Highlands.

Regent Vice Chairman Jesus Lopez thanked those involved in the project, particularly the president’s assistant, Max Baca, who he called an “unsung hero.”

“This has been an ordeal,” he said. “I want you to appreciate that you have leadership that has been steadfast... and tough.”

Martin Davidson, an architect with Diamond Schmidt in Toronto, Canada, briefly discussed some of the design choices. He called the student center a “rare opportunity to get so many public spaces together,” referring to the ballroom, classrooms and cafeteria inside. The building is transparent to represent its openness to the community. It also reflects the emphasis on environmental stewardship by utilizing many sustainable features that he called “unique, leading, and state of the art.” The building has automated sun shades and geothermal heat, as well as many of the other features in the four other LEED-certified buildings on campus.

Diamond Schmidt collaborated with Studio Southwest to design the building, and local company Franken Construction was brought in to complete it after the previous contractor was fired.

Student body President Chris Burns, a graduate student, also spoke, thanking Fries and everyone involved in the process for their persistence and strength. Father Douglas Mitchell of Our Lady of Sorrows blessed the building, calling it a “center of seeking, learning, and teaching.” He dedicated the building to learning and progress.

Fries closed the ceremony by highlighting some memorable design features. His personal favorite is the walkway from the second floor to the library, from which one can see the scenery of the town on one side and the mountains on the other.

Many students were present and expressed their satisfaction with the new center.

“It’s just awesome because it’s big,” said student and mariachi performer James Lopez. “It’s better than the last student center.”

Edgar Rojas agreed, adding, “The cafeteria could be bigger.” He has enjoyed familiarizing himself with the building, in which he will spend considerable time as a student ambassador.

“I think the design is really interesting and it brings you in,” said Krizia Caballero. She echoed the sentiments of many students, saying that it felt welcoming and inviting, and was a good addition to the town.

The Student Union Building is open to the public.