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College perseveres in aftermath of fire

College of Education faculty, staff and students at New Mexico State University literally know the meaning of trial by fire.



Workmen unload stored furniture that will be returned to O'Donnell Hall at New Mexico State University. The move back to the renovated building, which suffered extensive fire damage Dec. 12, 1999, will begin over NMSU's spring break March 27-31. At right, College of Education Interim Associate Dean Rick Scott supervises details of the move. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)


Class relocation schedule


Story:
Education college to begin move back to O'Donnell Hall

A Dec. 12, 1999, blaze caused an estimated $4 million to $4.5 million worth of damage to O'Donnell Hall, the College of Education building. "But we have never missed a class or academic or professional responsibility because of this catastrophic event," said Michael Morehead, interim dean of education.

About 75 employees and 200 classes with a total enrollment of about 5,000 students had to be moved out of O'Donnell to other locations. About 50 of the classes affected this semester are offered by colleges other than education, primarily arts and sciences and health and social services.

Fortunately, Goddard Hall was empty and awaiting renovation, so many classes and offices were moved there. Some space was available in NMSU's Cole Village apartments and in other campus buildings. NMSU's three preschool programs found accommodations off campus.

"People responded to this catastrophic event in heroic ways," Morehead said. "It's been a collective university-community team effort."

NMSU's facilities and services office and computing and networking department, as well as many other departments, have provided extensive help, the dean said.

Morehead said Interim Associate Education Dean Rick Scott has put in long hours overseeing many of the logistics of the move. Tens of thousands of pieces of office and classroom equipment had to be moved out of the 60,000-square-foot building. The items were wiped down, stored in trailers, taken out again to undergo "ozoning" to remove smoke and soot, and either moved to a new location or returned to the storage trailers to await a final move back to O'Donnell. The building needed new electrical, fire alarm, sprinkler, ventilation, cooling and heating systems, and new ceiling tiles, lighting fixtures and carpeting.

A side benefit of being forced to renovate is the opportunity to install state-of-the-art telephone and computer networks, Scott said. "But these things do not compensate for the general disruption," he added.

Scott said he began to fathom the fire's impact on people's lives when he found the educational management and development office reduced to rubble. He realized some "small charred metal framelike things" were the remains of the office's computers. "I lifted them up and saw a little blob of glass -- what was left of a computer monitor."

Maria Luisa Gonzalez, head of educational management and development, "lost the evidence of her professional career," Morehead said.

"My office was my second home," Gonzalez said. She lost a treasured rug that belonged to her great-grandmother, a table that originally had been in her father's office and about 40 educational videotapes. One of them was "Twenty-four Eyes," the first film made in Japan after World War II about the universality of education. She lost two cases of books, copies of correspondence, her resume and awards she has won over 28 years. She cannot replace gifts from students, including a collection of Avon bottles presented by inner city children in her early years of teaching. "The bottles were all they had to give," Gonzalez said.

"It's work, it's creativity, it's things you can't make copies of. I lost part of my past, where I've been and what I've done," she said. "Dr. Scott put a few things in a box for me, and they were totally charred.

"But some great things happened," she said. "Las Cruces Schools Superintendent Jesse Gonzales arranged for our department to borrow a portable classroom to hold faculty meetings. We pulled our forces together. We said 'everything may be burnt, but we are not going to lose students.'"

Rachel Vazquez, an NMSU student who has worked in the educational management and development office for about two years, has helped copy and regenerate forms for students. "The college has done a good job of keeping students informed," she said. "Everyone has worked as a team."

Applicants to the educational management and development master's and doctoral programs resubmitted applications and portfolios without complaint, Gonzalez said. "We are the only graduate program on campus whose enrollment went up spring semester."

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PHOTO: odonnell.jpg
CUTLINE: Workmen unload stored furniture that will be returned to O'Donnell Hall at New Mexico State University. The move back to the renovated building, which suffered extensive fire damage Dec. 12, 1999, will begin over NMSU's spring break March 27-31. At right, College of Education Interim Associate Dean Rick Scott supervises details of the move. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)

Rita A. Popp
March 22, 2000