Clark Hall to undergo lengthy renovations

Clark Hall as seen from the roof of the Science and Mathematics Learning Center. The Riebsomer wing of Clark Hall is located on the left with ventilation vents. (Amanda Britt / NM News Port)

By Amanda Britt / New Mexico News Port

As part of our Curious UNM project, our reporters are seeking questions from the UNM community about the university. These questions can look at any aspect of life on campus, from historical moments to current events. This story by Amanda Britt looks at the question of “How and why is Clark Hall, home of the chemistry and chemical biology department, being renovated?”

The Board of Regents approved $475,000 for the Riebsomer wing lab waste system replacement in Clark Hall. The Riebsomer wing project is an addition to the second phase of renovations to Clark Hall which has an estimated project budget of $16 million and is set to begin June 1, 2020.

The second phase of renovations in Clark Hall will shut down the building for approximately 12 months. However, the Riebsomer wing will remain open. 

Bobby Ortiz, the facility operations manager for chemistry and mathematics, said although fixing the pipes in Riebsomer is an urgent project, the wing will remain open during its renovation because research at the university cannot be halted.

“The emergency part of the Riebsomer pipe exchange is that it’s a catastrophic failure that we need to fix quickly,” Ortiz said.

The Reibsomer wing of Clark Hall received a new lab drainage piping system in 2016. Within a year, the PVC pipes began to fail. It was recently discovered that the pipe failures have progressed across the whole drainage system.

The project is funded by $350,000 from facilities management reserves and $125,000 from minor capital reserves.

Funds for the second phase of renovations in Clark Hall will come from the 2018 general obligation bond.

Clark Hall as seen from the roof of the Science and Mathematics Learning Center. The Riebsomer wing of Clark Hall is located on the left with ventilation vents. (Amanda Britt / NM News Port)

Although the project will take up to a year to complete, students like Diana Martinez and Glorianne Dorcé are happy to see work being done on the building.

The two teaching assistants said that in the building’s current state there is no room to do work. As many as 50 TAs are crammed into one room to host office hours for their students.

“There’s no tables here,” Dorcé said. “I have a few of my students who sit on the hallway floor which is a safety hazard, because they don’t have access to this room, because it’s technically a TA and graduate room, and they don’t have a place to do work.”

Despite their frustrations with the building, the two teaching assistants are happy to see the construction come to Clark Hall.

“It’s very much needed,” Martinez said. “This is one of the oldest buildings on campus and we’re right across from a new building.”

The first phase of renovations in 2016 also cost $16 million to complete, according to Jeremy Edwards, the chair of the chemistry department. He said that outwardly it appears there is more being done in phase two of the renovations, because phase one included a lot of unseen improvements.

“Behind the walls the infrastructure of the building was in quite bad shape to support modern research,” Edwards said. “So a lot of renovations went into stuff you can’t see; updating the HVAC and all of the ventilation.”

Edwards said the second phase of renovations will include more space for students to work including a lobby gathering space and a drop-in space.

“Both of these areas will be very nice areas for students to congregate and study, as well as wait for class,” Edwards said.

It is still unclear where classes will be held while Clark Hall is under construction, although Edwards believes they will likely be in Mitchell Hall and the Science and Mathematics Learning Center.

Amanda Britt is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be reached on Twitter @AmandaBritt__ or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.