"The project has been stalled by a disagreement between SFCC and HED over the pathway to final approval of the construction plans"
From a Santa Fe Community College news release
Attorneys for Santa Fe Community College today filed a legal action in District Court requesting an order to force the New Mexico Higher Education Department (HED) to grant a hearing to review construction plans for the Santa Fe Higher Education Center. Santa Fe County voters approved $12 million in bond funding in 2010 to build the center, which is a collaborative project between SFCC and four-year universities and colleges to deliver bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in Santa Fe.
The project has been stalled by a disagreement between SFCC and HED over the pathway to final approval of the construction plans.
Before the 2010 bond election, the Higher Education Department gave approval of the college’s request to form a learning center under the Learning Center Act (21-16A NMSA 1978). In March 2011, the New Mexico Legislature passed House Joint Memorial 9, authorizing the state’s General Services Department to sell to the college a tract of land for the center’s building site. In July, 2011, the Higher Education Department approved the land purchase, and the sale was finalized in September, 2011. The site is on the southwest side of the former College of Santa Fe campus.
The final step to get the building project underway requires the Higher Education Department to conduct a routine review of the construction plans. In a letter to SFCC President Sheila Ortego on October 26, 2011, Secretary of Higher Education Jose Z. Garcia maintained that legislative approval would be required in order for construction to move forward. Attorney General Gary King issued an advisory letter on Dec. 30, 2011, noting, "We conclude that neither legislative approval nor approval by the State Board of Finance is required for the construction of a learning center facility under the Learning Center Act or any other law." Citing current law and the Attorney General’s letter, local legislators declined to put forward a bill on the center during this year’s session.
SFCC’s attorneys in the matter, John Boyd and Vincent Ward of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Ives & Duncan P.A. in Albuquerque, have attempted to resolve the stalemate with the Higher Education Department informally over the past two months. The legal filing today is known as a petition for a writ of mandamus, or an order that is issued from a court requiring a governmental body to perform a particular act required by law. A writ is typically issued without a lengthy judicial process.
“We hope for an expedited ruling that will move the center forward so that students will be able access the educational programs they need in order to compete for jobs,” said Ortego. She noted that the center’s higher education model is at work in most states, and that as a collaborative project among several institutions, students and taxpayers alike save money.
“Our students have long requested an affordable and locally-based pathway to a bachelor’s degree,” Ortego continued. “We are disappointed to be in a position where we must appeal to the courts, but we want students to have the opportunity the voters endorsed to pursue higher education close to home.”
Ortego further noted the College’s Governing Board voted at its meeting of April 27, 2012 to take the legal action.