Editor's Note: This is the Part 9 of a multi-article series on the Prospectors' Legislative Community Forum, held at Western New Mexico University on Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. Community groups presented their needs and concerns to New Mexico Reps. Dianne Hamilton and Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez, and Sen. Howie Morales.
The non-profit presentations began with a joint one by representatives from the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society and the Fort Bayard Restoration and Development Coalition.
Cecilia Bell, FBHPS president, showed a short PowerPoint presentation, without comment.
"The Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society has been working to save Fort Bayard since 1998," Bell said when the legislators returned to their seats. "We're now seeing it as the major role it played in Grant County. It is a multi-cultural site, not just representing the military and the Buffalo Soldiers. Chinese people worked at the fort. Construction and staff have been and continue to be Hispanic."
She said many people who have worked at the fort or who have family who were there come back looking for their family members.
"The other day, a nurse's family was here," Bell said. "We had put up an interpretive sign about nurses, and the granddaughter of one of them identified five of those pictured."
She recounted the family who had four children who died around Christmas and who are buried at Fort Bayard. "A family discovered the graves of their family members."
"I have acquired photos from the last doctor at the fort," Bell said. "Visitors continue to come. We have had six from out-of-state since last Saturday.
"Our new interpretive signs include one of 13 Apache scouts who received medals of honor," Bell continued.
"We spend any volunteer hours helping the Department of Health do maintenance," she said.
"I have one big question," Bell said. "I talked to Pilar Cannizarrio of Historic Preservation. She was unaware of a bill to demolish the old hospital. She suggested perhaps the division should come down to the fort and make the state historic district smaller and more manageable. The state wants to keep Fort Bayard as a historic district."
Ansel Walters, Fort Bayard Restoration and Development Coalition president, said the coalition is made up of representatives of about 30 interest groups.
"The coalition has adopted the feasibility study done for the state of New Mexico," Walters said. "We have four committees, but we cannot proceed until ownership of the fort is determined. We have had two grants offered to us, but we couldn't accept them without ownership of the property. They have asked us to reapply when ownership is determined."
The decision is between private and local government ownership, Walters said. "We have voted for local government ownership, because we believe it would be more responsive to local interests. Every fort we have studied has been successful. All are owned by a county, city or state government, and most have become self-sufficient within three years."
"The fort must be self-sustainable," Walters said. "It should be a major economic development driver in the area."
A group of members from Santa Clara, Grant County and Western New Mexico University is working together to purchase or lease the property, he said. Walters explained that the state said it would not give the property to another state agency, such as the university, but Western wants to use the property for educational opportunities. Santa Clara would like to buy the property, but the state has not shown interest. Grant County proposes to demolish the old hospital with state funding.
"The Fort Bayard coalition supports the Brownfields grant application," Walters said. "Grant County is trying to lease the old trailer park for an RV Park, the theater and the commanding officer's quarters, which is used as a museum. We also are asking for capital outlay to renovate the theater. When ownership is in place, many avenues of funding will be available. That is when private investment can come into place. As an organization, our advisory board does not have the capacity to maintain and develop the fort."
Hamilton said she appreciates how much the two organizations know about the fort and its history. "Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?"
Bell said she thinks the county is excited about leasing the area for an RV park, the theater and the commanding officer's quarters. "We will need heat and the bathrooms for the theater before we can use it as a year-round theater."
"Would the county have to furnish people to manage it?" Hamilton asked.
Santa Clara and Grant County and to some extent Western have moved the project forward," Walters said. "We think the petition with 3,500 signatures supporting Fort Bayard helped when we sent it to the state."
He continued by saying: "Grant County has met with the state and the old hospital is the elephant in the room. If we can get the old hospital down, Fort Bayard becomes an economic development asset."
Hamilton cautioned of the need to get someone ready to take it over.
Bell said the old Hillcrest Hospital was an eyesore that finally came down. "Let's take down the old hospital, but don't destroy the historic trees and the housing foundations when we're doing it."
Martinez thanked the two groups for their support and efforts. "They have been recognized." He said when the Department of Health moved into the new facility, it still remained in charge of maintenance. "In no way, are we considering getting rid of the historic homes. The old hospital is expensive to maintain. The Interim Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee supports demolishing the old hospital. With a change in the legislation, we will carry it as a capital outlay request. Going through the challenges, we need to recognize the things that need to happen for progress. We know there is some resistance, but compare the $5 million to demolish with the $28 million that would be required to renovate it. We have been working on an ongoing plan by Property Control for a number of years."
Morales said he knew when the group and the legislators had a meeting in the summer that the old hospital would be a problem. "Is there support to get rid of it?"
Bell said she had discussed the issue with the National Parks Service, which oversees national landmarks, such as Fort Bayard. "They told me that if we put a marker and maintain the marker as part of history, the campus will remain a national landmark, so the Service supports the demolition."
Morales said he had concerns about allegations in the Deming paper.
"I would like to apologize to Representative Martinez for the unwarranted attack," Walters said. "This particular individual does not attend the Fort Bayard Restoration and Development Coalition meetings. She is presenting her own views. Next time you see an email from her, delete it."
"As we go through the legislative process, we would like your support there," Morales said. "We need to get the request for the theater in capital outlay form."
Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments director, said she would be happy to do it.
Martinez said Property Control Division is seeking funding for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning for the theater. "Having a capital outlay request form will reinforce that request."
"I would like to ask for help in getting the doors of the theater fixed and secured," Bell said. "They are closed only with a chain and a lock."
Martinez said he would have a conversation with Property Control.
The next article will cover other non-profit organizations and will begin with the Mimbres Arts Council and Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce.