New furniture coming as college finishes building expansion

College board also accepts donation from New Mexico Gas Co.

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
Chris Harrelson, physical plant senior director at San Juan College, shows off one of the school's new classroom on Wednesday.
  • The college voted to change the scope of the STEM-H building project at its regular meeting on Tuesday.
  • The $800,000 change includes new furniture, landscaping, and infrastructure improvements.
  • A $50,000 donation from the New Mexico Gas Co. will benefit displaced and underemployed individuals.

FARMINGTON — San Juan College’s remodeled and expanded STEM-H building will get new furniture and infrastructure updates before the $7 million project is finished this spring.

The college’s Board of Trustees voted to change the scope of the project at a regular meeting on Tuesday, and the change comes after cost estimates came out to be lower than expected, according to the college’s Vice President for Administrative Services Edward DesPlas. The change in scope includes more than $800,000 in a variety of minor projects, though the biggest project is replacing furniture.

“The estimate of probable cost was higher (than actual costs), and we weren’t sure how much furniture and equipment we would be buying,” DesPlas said.

DesPlas said if there was no funding available after construction costs, the college would reuse old furniture, but after actual costs came through lower than anticipated, the college will purchase and install $210,480 in new furniture in the science, technology and engineering building.

“That was not necessarily our first choice, but it looked like it was going to be a budgetary reality,” DesPlas said. “As we moved into the project and things stayed within the parameters that we saw it in a year ago, we realized we have $800,000 here, and we can continue on with our improvements.”

Edward DesPlas, executive vice president at San Juan College, talks about the school's STEM-H building project on Wednesday.

The change in scope is made up of $808,425 in small projects, including cabinetry and furniture for chemistry and geology labs, and the college’s herbarium, improved stairs, handrails and landscaping leading to a new picnic and study area at one of the building’s entrances, and exterior door, lighting, plumbing and fire alarm system upgrades, DesPlas said.

DesPlas said completing the $800,000 worth of projects while construction is wrapping up will be cost effective and convenient for the college, as the contractors are already on site, and students and faculty are accustomed to the construction.

“It was not something that we originally planned to do, but it was something that we needed to do, and we just seized upon the opportunity,” DesPlas said.

Chris Harrelson, physical plant senior director at San Juan College, leads a tour of new facilities at the school on Wednesday.

The college approved the $7 million project in January 2017 and broke ground in February 2017, DesPlas said.

Chris Harrelson, the college’s physical plant senior director, said the renovation project, which included seven labs, five multipurpose classrooms and several offices, is complete, and classes have resumed in the renovated spaces.

A 5,424-square-foot addition is nearing completion, and two new anatomy and physiology and math labs, and two new bathrooms likely will be finished in the coming weeks, and classes in the new space will begin with the summer term, Harrelson said.

The board also accepted a $50,000 donation from the New Mexico Gas Co. for the college’s Center for Workforce Development at the Tuesday meeting.

In 2017, New Mexico Gas Co. and its parent company, Emera Inc., committed to establishing a $5 million economic development fund “to invest and support New Mexico communities and contribute to the overall economic growth in the state,” according to a press release from the college.

San Juan College Center for Workforce Development Director Lorenzo Reyes says a recent donation to the college by the New Mexico Gas Co. and Emera Inc. will target “underemployed” and displaced local workers for work force development training.

Tuesday’s donation was New Mexico Gas Co.’s and Emera’s first to the college, though SJC Center for Workforce Development Director Lorenzo Reyes said they hope the partnership will continue in the future.

“It’s important to cultivate partnerships, especially with partners that are willing invest in our students. It’s makes a big, big difference in our community and the work that we do,” Reyes said.

The donation will target “underemployed” and displaced local workers for work force development training. Reyes said the center will likely focus the training on information technology and Microsoft certification, and the courses could expand into manufacturing training depending on interest and need.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or