Stephanie Forrest and students
Distinguished Regents Professor Stephanie Forrest with two engineering students.

The Farris Engineering building, constructed in 1967, sits directly across the street from Hodgin Hall, the oldest building at UNM. Hodgin Hall is great for nostalgia, tradition and history, but 47-year-old Farris exudes no charm for computer engineering students working in a facility that predates the World Wide Web.

Besides the traditional problems of older buildings – climate control that turns offices into green houses or freezers – they also face problems with the way offices are laid out in long hallways. The need is for collaborative open spaces, which currently must take place in faculty offices or computer labs. Sandia National Laboratories researchers who visit Professor Patrick Bridges discuss their work in one of the small labs.

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Asbestos floor tiles cause special problems when they come loose, which happens regularly on the third floor in the Computer Science Department when the bathrooms overflow. Distinguished Regents Professor of Computer Science Stephanie Forrest said, “When the women’s restrooms back-up, water runs out the door, down the hall, and into my lab.”

She spent the last several months in Washington D.C. advising the U.S. State Department on Cybersecurity issues. When she came back to her office she immediately began having respiratory problems, something she thinks could be related to the building’s many HVAC problems. 

Students say they would like to do collaborative work in areas close to their professors, but available space is only in open classrooms or faculty offices. In the evening when graduate students flood into the computer labs, it’s standing room only. “We don’t have room to expand these labs,” George Kelbley, systems specialist for the department, said. “That’s especially difficult for international students who need to use these computers to do their work.”

General Obligation Bond C would set aside $20.5 million to completely rehabilitate Farris Engineering. It would allow UNM to bring the building up to current codes and to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It would also allow for new air conditioning to cool computer servers, and for better temperature control in faculty offices. Faculty members and students who visit Forrest’s office bring jackets and sweaters – even in August – because the temperature can’t be properly regulated.

Money from the bond would allow for electrical and mechanical system upgrades, improve energy conservation and increase space for the Computer, Chemical and Nuclear Engineering Departments.

General Obligation Bond C will improve the Farris Engineering Center, built almost 50 years ago," said UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah. "The renovation will include updates for safety and compliance, energy efficiency and research laboratory space. For many programs, and especially within the STEM fields, having up-to-date equipment and laboratory space is crucial.  The proposed renovation would enable the School of Engineering to provide a state-of-the-art student learning environment."

The labs in the basement of Farris are used for some of the most sophisticated research on the UNM campus. The lab space used by Professor Abhaya Datye’s research group explores ways to get catalytic converters for diesel engines to burn cleaner. The work is funded by General Motors.

Down the hall, Professor Plamen Atanassov’s research group experiments with fuel cells for automobiles. Daihatsu displayed their experimental fuel cells in a concept pickup truck at the Tokyo Motor Show this year. The company funds some of the research the group has in progress.

Packed into a cramped lab in one section of the Farris basement, Professor Adam Hecht’s research group does fission experiments for the Los Alamos National Laboratories. Graduate students can do some work for a lower cost than the lab can do internally. Hecht said his work would be easier if he could be sure his instruments were reading correctly. The renovation should give him access to clean electrical power.

The General Obligation Bond for higher education is Bond C on the November ballot. In addition to Farris Engineering, Bond C contains an allocation of $12 million to design and construct a health education building at the Health Sciences Center. The bond also contains $500,000 to equip an emergency medical services classroom laboratory and training area at UNM Los Alamos, $1 million to construct and equip Zollinger Library at UNM Gallup, $4 million to construct and equip the health career training center at UNM Taos and $1 million from critical health and safety infrastructure improvements at UNM Valencia.