State officials Brad Isaacson, on the phone, and Jim Thalmann, led a tour of Fort Bayard to gauge interest in the purchase and reuse of the property. (Photo by Mary Alice Murphy)
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, three state officials traveled to the Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark to give a tour and explain the process the state is using to seek interest in possible purchase of the property.
The tour began, led by Brad Isaacson, project manager in New Mexico General Services Department Facilities Management, at the Commanding Officers' Quarters. The Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society, with no benefit of power, water or heat, manages, as a museum, the building in the middle of Officers' Row at Fort Bayard.
The next stop was the old Fort Bayard Medical Center, a 145,000 square-foot structure built in the 1920s as a hospital. It remained in use until 2010 when it was replaced by the new Fort Bayard Medical Center, located just off the historic campus.
Isaacson warned the about 30 people on the tour that the building was dangerous with debris and equipment stacked up throughout the old hospital.
"The first time I came here, it was an operating hospital," Isaacson said.
He said the tour was being held as part of step one in the process to request Expressions of Interest in purchasing 298 acres of the 468-acre campus.
The portion, for which the state is seeking interest, encompasses the historic structures and infrastructure of the old fort.
"We know there is some asbestos in most of the buildings," Issacson said in answer to a question, but said he did not have the information to elaborate on the issue.
Dr. James Skee, who took part in the tour, said some abatement was done in the 1990s.
"We need questions as part of the process," Isaacson said.
The deadline for receiving expressions of interest is Dec. 20. The deadline for sending questions to Jeffries is Dec. 13. She said the plan is to post the questions and answers on Dec. 17, on the NM State Purchasing website.
To a question about what will happen to the remaining almost 200 acres, Thalmann said the Department of Health wants to keep 50-70 acres to expand the FBMC mental health services.
Jeffries said if there is interest by groups, individuals or organizations in purchasing the property, the state would go out for a request for proposal.
Armando Amador, member of the Fort Bayard Restoration and Development Coalition and part of the Veterans' Committee of the coalition, asked if another meeting could be held at Fort Bayard just to ask questions and get answers.
"We want to get the questions to one focal point," Thalmann said. "The purpose today is just to tour the facility."
Isaacson suggested that questions also be asked about the equipment and furnishings disposition. Furniture and equipment lined the halls of the old hospital.
"The furnishings belong to the state," Jeffries said.
At this point, the group had toured the museum and the old hospital. The next stop was the New Deal Theater, for which state money has been used to upgrade the stage and other portions of the building.
David Tercero of Southwest Transition said his group is interested in acquiring the property, to support veterans' issues. He indicated Western New Mexico University was also supportive of the effort.
To a question about what would happen if there were no interest in anyone purchasing the property, Thalmann said other avenues would be explored, with the possibility of demolishing the old hospital.
"We have no pre-approved solutions," Thalmann emphasized. "The state is interested in retaining the historical significance of the property."
During conversations, one of the officials made known that the federal government and the state are negotiating the procurement of an additional 20 acres of the state-owned land to add to the Fort Bayard National Cemetery to increase its longevity.
Isaacson cautioned that anyone interested in the property should be aware that the foundations of the buildings would have to be checked. If any structure were put to use by the public, for more than 10 people at a time, it would need to be ADA-compliant and checked structurally.
"The Department of Health is still the agency in charge of the campus," Isaacson confirmed.
Tercero said the facilities offered potential for a great partnership with the university, the community and the general public to make the fort "a thriving operation. It has water and sun for solar."
"Remember that it is a national landmark, and there are procedures to tearing down buildings, which is not prohibited, but must follow state historic preservation rules and would have to follow National Park Service regulations," Isaacson said. "A group can make modifications if procedures are followed."
The last stop on the tour was the steam plant, where a state-of-the-art boiler to use biomass had been installed, at a cost of more than $1 million, by New Mexico, at the behest of Gov. Bill Richardson, in 2009, when plans were already in process for building the new medical center and abandoning the old in 2010. The practically new boiler has sat unused since 2010.