State stuck paying for abandoned buildings

Old buildings


SANTA FE (KRQE) — The state is one of the biggest landlords of abandoned properties in New Mexico. Some of the buildings have been sitting empty for years. But they’re still costing everyone a lot of money.

The state owns about 100 abandoned buildings around the state totaling 618,000 square feet of space. The buildings are crumbling in the harsh heat. They’ve been the target of vandals. But the state can’t tear them down or afford to refurbish all of them. Budget often dictates what happens to the properties.

“In the [last] special session we were given three and a half million dollars, now we have to determine how we’re going to spend that three and a half million dollars. We’ve got significantly greater needs than three and a half million,” said New Mexico General Services Secretary Ed Burckle.

The state’s largest cluster of abandoned buildings is located at Fort Bayard near Silver City. The 400-acre property has been a drain on New Mexico coffers. Built in the mid-1800s, the outpost was made famous by Buffalo Soldiers. The old hospital on the property was built in 1922. It closed five years ago. Just the hospital building costs the state about $100,000 a year in upkeep. Now it’s about to come down.

“The contract we wrote to tear down the old Fort Bayard hospital is about $3.8 million,” said Burckle.

Once the asbestos laden hospital is gone the state hopes to sell the property to a developer who would preserve its history.

But other buildings on the land have different needs. That’s the case at the six abandoned buildings at the old boy’s school in Springer, New Mexico.

The state is also trying to find use for the Los Lunas campus near I-25. It was built for the developmentally disabled. The campus closed in the mid-1990s. Today, a few agencies like New Mexico State Police and the Department of Corrections use space there. But a majority of buildings sit empty.

There’s even a cemetery tucked away on the back of the large campus.

“It is just a nice quiet area, almost like a park-like setting when you pull into here,” said John Hellebust with the Department of Health.

But some building windows are boarded up. Others are tagged with graffiti, have pealing paint and roofs that are falling apart. Six of the 16 state owned buildings on the Los Lunas campus will soon be torn down.

Buildings constructed for specific uses can be hard to reuse without remodeling.

“You just can’t readily convert that to usable office space,” said Burckle.

The state owns the vacant buildings around the state but the General Services Department is not responsible for the maintenance, except for the buildings in Santa Fe. The agency that uses the property is responsible for maintenance, like the Department of Health that takes care of the Los Lunas Campus. DOH uses a handful of buildings for the developmentally disabled.

Burckle says it’s not always cheaper to refurbish and reuse a property.

“If a building does not have any asbestos issues for example, it may be a lot cheaper just to tear it down,” he said. “If we can find another use for the existing facility, we’ll certainly try to refurbish it and put it to better economic use by moving somebody say from a leased space into state owned space.”

Burckle also said if a building is unsafe or vagrants break in, the state is more likely to tear it down.

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