Sewer line breaks ground

By Bill Knief

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May 21 was a big day for UNM-Taos. It was the hottest day of the year so far with a nasty gusting wind that brought dirt with it from every direction at once. If you were anywhere near a construction site yellow sand and grit got into your clothes, into your hair, into your eyes and your mouth if you happened break a smile. But the couple of dozen people standing in the middle of the dirt road in front of the treatment plant west of town were all grinning like they had just won the lottery. And in a way, they had. They had gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of the sewer line project that would guarantee the expansion of the UNM-Taos Klauer campus for years to come.

You could say they were “flushed with success”.

Sarah Backus, director of the El Valle de los Ranchos Water and Sanitation District, who had negotiated the agreement between UNM-Taos and El Valle, felt that it wasn’t just the check for nearly $1,500,000.00 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was bringing to the festivities later that afternoon that made people smile. The real success story according to her was about the singular collaboration among individuals and institutions that made the whole project possible.

“It really feels like we are doing something good for the community, for the students of UNM and basically for everyone. We worked well together, with very little tension, and a whole lot of good will; I think when everybody has good intentions things work out well.”

Cindy Schaedig, project manager from the Office of Capital Projects at UNM Albuquerque, elaborated. “We appreciate the cooperation from El Valle, the town, the county and the support from our legislators that will get the sewer out to Klauer because it gets the college out of the business of being a public utility. With the new buildings coming in the septic system is maxed out, so we had to either put in a treatment plant of our own or work out an arrangement with El Valle and the town, and we are so grateful that they were willing to join forces. The support that the local communities have shown for their community college has just been amazing.”

Dr. Kate O’Neill, Executive Director of UNM-Taos, made special mention of the legislative efforts of Senator Carlos Cisneros and Representative Bobby Gonzales. “With their help, along with collaboration of the USDA, UNM, the town of Taos and the county of Taos we had support from every level: federal, state and local. I can’t thank them enough.”

Representative Gonzales said, “When we went for branch campus status some years back we probably had 80% of the legislature against us. Now UNM-Taos is the golden apple of our community. There is no limit to what the future holds for us.”

Senator Cisneros agreed, stating that, “It is a proud day when we can celebrate cooperation for the greater good. This improved infrastructure will make Taos an educational destination as well as provide the opportunity of higher education to all our citizens. I commend El Valle and UNM-Taos for the wonderful work that they are doing.”

Ryan Gleason, New Mexico director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, while acknowledging that he always gets an enthusiastic reception when he visits small communities mainly because people know he is coming with a big check, also maintained that there was something special about this project. “These projects always take a lot of cooperation, and when you get multiple governmental agencies involved, it just adds to the headaches. The smoothness of this particular project is a testament to the commitment of the community to make this happen.”

In an aside that brought laughter to the crowd, he said, “I’d also like to recognize Dr. O’Neill’s leadership in this. You should know that she has chased me over the better part of the state trying to make this happen. She deserves more credit than you guys realize in keeping my attention focused.”

The project is expected to be completed in time for the new buildings on campus to be open by mid August, and during construction there may be delays along Los Cordovas Rd. south of the treatment plant. Alternative routes might be advisable.


Registration for summer classes is in full swing, and you can go online at taos.unm.edu to register, come to the administration building at 115 Civic Plaza Drive, or phone 737-6200 for information. Summer schedules are available throughout the community.

Richard Niemeyer, head of the Academy of Sciences and Environmental Studies, recommended several new courses: The Plants of Northern New Mexico and Wildlands Ecology, both taught by Sylvia Rains Dennis, coordinator of cultural and ecological sustainability, and Forest Ecology, taught by well known Taoseno and PhD in Forestry Larry Vincent. All three courses delve into the philosophy and application of sustainability, and rely on hands-on field trips into the real-world ecosystems that are being studied.

Published author and veteran instructor Shawn Murphy recommended English 432, Living Contemporary Authors. It is a two week intensive with 20 hours devoted to reading and discussing works of contemporary authors, followed by 20 hours of workshops devoted to presentations and conversations with those same authors.

“It’s a very innovative class,” Murphy maintained. “It is interesting for students of every skill level to meet authors and realize that they’re just human beings. It makes students think that maybe they, too could do this work. Authors aren’t just people in the distant past who wrote something and then died, after all.”

Another innovative offering is the Gear UP! summer session from June 9-13, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. It is open to 30 Taos Middle School students, who can sign up by contacting middle school counselor Theresa Sanchez. Each day a different academy will present to the group—giving them a feel for branch campus academics and a taste of college life. This is one more effort to make higher education more of a normal part of everyone’s academic career.

About The Bill Knief