University survey receives mixed results

A survey conducted by Eastern New Mexico University regarding ENMU President Jeff Elwell’s residence met with mixed reactions.

The survey, which asked participants whether the university should build a new home for Elwell or remodel his current home, was conducted over a period of several weeks from early December to Jan. 14.

The percentage of participants in the survey included 22.36 percent students, 19.17 percent staff members, 13.26 percent faculty members, 32.91 percent alumni, 5.75 percent Portales community members, and 1.28 percent community members outside Portales.

In regard to what to do with the president’s residence, 23.60 percent of participants recommended doing nothing and 29.67 percent recommended remodeling, while others recommended rebuilding at a new site with the option to demolition or repurpose the current structure.

Many participants appeared to be concerned with the high costs of both the remodel and the construction of a new home, with many faculty and staff stating that such money could be used for more important needs on campus, providing specific examples of other ENMU buildings in poor condition.

“This … does not even address the cost of demolition or remodeling/repurposing for the existing house, nor the cost of housing the president during the rebuild,” one faculty member wrote. “Another question is how much money the institution has already sunk in smaller-scale updates and remodels to the existing house and whether those expenditures would just be written off as a loss if there is a decision to build a new house at this point.”

According to ENMU records, $64,529 has been spent on the president’s home from 2015 to 2018. According to ENMU officials, these expenses included repairing the garage doors, minor repair to the garden, replacement of the “President’s House” sign (due to vandalism), AC unit replacement, construction done to the master bedroom and bathroom, hallway re-carpeting, and a bathroom remodel. Officials did not address whether or not these renovations would benefit a future renovation to the home.

Board of Regents voted on Jan. 22 to build a new home for the president.

Board of Regents Vice President Terry Othick said regents plan on making the best decision to save as much money as possible for the project.

“We will advance plans to build a new university residence in the general area of the existing residence, and the board will work to identify funding sources for this project that will not impact students, tuition and fees, university reserves, or other planned construction or operations,” Othick said.

Othick said Elwell will continue living at the current location until the new residence is complete, eliminating the need for Elwell and his family to relocate temporarily.

Costs quoted in the survey for a new home were $704,375 for a new 3,500 square foot home and $503,125 for a new 2,500 square foot home. Othick did not specify which was chosen.

No particular timeline has been set for the project.

In the survey conducted, most faculty appeared to be against relocation of the president unless it was to other university housing or was done so at little cost to the university. Many faculty and staff members suggested only removing the asbestos from the house, having the ENMU Physical Plant remodel the home or doing only absolutely necessary renovations to the home.

Othick said the physical plant would not be able to complete the extensive repairs needed in Elwell’s house.

“They could do minor repairs like replacing carpet, but to remove the asbestos in the house, we will have to get a certified company,” said Othick.

Othick said the Board of Regents had a certified company from Albuquerque review the asbestos in the house, and it was determined that the level of asbestos in the house exceeds safe levels.

Many participants of the survey wondered what would happen to the current president’s house if a new one was to be built.

Othick said, “We do not anticipate tearing down the current residence at this time. We plan to work with University officials and other stakeholders to identify potential uses for the facility that would justify keeping and maintaining the structure.”

The Eastern New Mexico News reported on Jan. 27 that Othick stated at the regents meeting that the building serving as the location for The ENMU Foundation and Alumni Affairs is a possibility being discussed.

Othick said regents will work together to determine the best use of the old house that will best fit the mission of the University and help support the primary goal of ENMU student success.

Several faculty and staff expressed criticisms regarding the housing need with one faculty member stating, “I don’t feel that it is appropriate for the president to say, ‘I don’t like my free home; therefore, build me another, please.’”

“Elwell needs a reality check,” wrote another faculty member. “Chancellor? Salary increase? Now a new home with an outrageous price tag for a new residence or remodel? It’s totally an imperious attitude … What has he done to deserve all these perks? Nothing.”

Othick said the idea of renovating or rebuilding the president’s house has been a reality since the university’s previous president, Steven Gamble, handed in his resignation letter a year prior to leaving. He said once the board had received word that Gamble was leaving, they decided to begin the process of renovating/reconstructing the residence. The board toured the home then brought in contractors to gather pricing information and length of time for the project.

Student reactions appeared to be the most mixed of the current survey, with many students saying they simply did not care, while others said they believed a bare minimum remodel was best. Others said both a remodel and rebuild were a “waste of funds.”

“How can ENMU justify renovating or rebuilding the new president’s, or “chancellor’s” home when we have dormitory buildings that haven’t been renovated since the late 1990’s,” wrote one student. “Not to mention, the new Chancellor is trying to build a multi-million-dollar recreation center. Our priorities are starting to seem illogical and flawed when basic living areas for students are the lowest priority and a president’s home and a new rec center are given all the thought and time.”

However, Othick said that a Capital Improvement Plan put into place by ENMU will be addressing the needs of other university buildings. He said there are plans to renovate other buildings on campus, such as Roosevelt Hall and the Student Academic Services building. He also said the idea of a recreation center on campus has been put on hold.

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