College Board talks tuition increase, student housing and Little Theatre renovations

Sam Ribakoff
Farmington Daily Times
Chris Harrelson, senior director of the physical plant at San Juan College, presents proposed designs for the renovation of the San Juan College Little Theatre at the College Board's work session on Feb. 4, 2020, in Farmington.

FARMINGTON – A proposed sketch for the renovation of San Juan College’s Little Theatre was presented at a work session before the college's monthly Board of Trustees meeting.

The renovation will see the theater renamed the Connie Gotsch Theatre in honor of the late KSJE radio host, novelist and fine arts supporter.

The lobby will be redesigned in a colorful art deco style, a style of bold, geometric architecture that was popular around the world in the 1920s and 1930s.   

“This is an old traditional way of design, but it’s a very modern way of doing it,” said Chris Harrelson, the senior director of the college's physical plant. “In my mind, everything in it will be a work of art.”

With funds provided by the San Juan College Foundation and the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation, Seven Nielsen, a set designer from Utah, is set to lead the renovation, which Harrelson said may be completed in August of 2020, with a public opening a month later.

A close-up of the proposed designs for the renovation of the San Juan College Little Theatre, to be renamed the Connie Gotsch Theatre, were displayed at the San Juan College board's work session on Feb. 4, 2020, in Farmington.

“We’re going for aesthetic changes that would be timeless in their design elements so future students will still think it’s relevant years and years into the future. That’s our goal,” Harrelson said. “Connie [Gotsch] was a friend of mine, and this was a great way to honor her.”

Harrelson said a collection of Gotsch’s books and other items and photographs will be displayed in the renovated lobby.

Student housing designer picked

Executive Vice President Ed DesPlas announced the selection of the Albuquerque-based architectural firm Dekker/Perich/Sabatini to design the college’s $14-million student housing project.

The same firm designed the college’s School of Energy.

The firm will have to complete schematic designs for the proposed 150-student housing project by the first week of March of this year, which will then be presented to the New Mexico Higher Education Department for approval. Then the plan will have to be approved by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration.

DesPlas estimated a November or December 2020 groundbreaking date for the project.

Possible student tuition increase

DesPlas also announced that the college is looking toward increasing student tuition by $3 per credit hour for in-state students, and $9 per credit hour for out-of-state students for the fall 2020 school year.

The tuition change would increase student tuition from $49 per credit hour to $52 for in-state students and from $155 to $164 per credit hour for out-of-state students.

Students at the college take at least 12 credits to be considered full-time students, which means those students would pay at minimum $809 per semester, when including the cost of the credit hours and a $185 administrative fee that the college asks resident students to pay if they take more than 4.1 credit hours per semester. 

“We still have an advantage on price,” DesPlas said, citing higher tuition costs at Fort Lewis College in Durango, “Community colleges are still a deal.”

The board will vote on whether to approve the tuition increases at their next meeting on Tuesday, March 3.

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 or via email at