The Physics and Astronomy Department plans to have a new home by Fall 2019.

The construction is hard to miss. The new building will be the former site of a city water reservoir adjacent to the Center for the Arts, the Art building, Castetter Hall and Marron Hall. The reservoir has been unused by the Albuquerque Water Utility Authority for years.

Projected to cost upward of $65.7 million, the Physics, Astronomy and Interdisciplinary Science Center, or PAIS, is the largest construction project currently underway at the University of New Mexico, according to a project status report from the Planning, Design & Construction Department.



Construction crews are now clearing the debris from the reservoir’s demolition, which began in November of 2017, to make room for the foundation and basement. The status report said the projected end of construction is July 18, 2019.

When completed, the new building will cover 139,100 square feet, according to the report. Originally planned to extend to Central Avenue, closing part of Redondo Drive, it has since been scaled back.

Even without that expansion, the building will be the largest classroom building on campus and will greatly increase the Physics and Astronomy Department’s research capabilities. It will also be a major upgrade from their current facility, said Amy Coburn, University architect and director of the Planning, Design & Construction Department.

Built in 1951 and located on North Campus, the current Physics and Astronomy building is beginning to show its age, Coburn said. Issues with ventilation and space increasingly hinder the department’s ability to conduct high-level research.

The main goal of PAIS is to bring advanced research capability to the University. Coburn said the new building will be able to support the academic mission of both the Physics and Astronomy department and the University at large much better.

The research won’t be limited to the department, whose name the building bears. Apart from classrooms and offices, the PAIS Center will become a major center of interdisciplinary studies at the University.

Research is all, to an extent, interdisciplinary — using knowledge from multiple fields in a single study. It is the hope of the University that PAIS will provide a venue for high-level STEM research in multiple fields, concentrating the University’s research efforts into one building, Coburn said.

This construction project comes at the same time as the renovation of Smith Plaza, the construction of the McKinnon Center of Management and the recently completed Farris Engineering Center. Soon, Johnson Center will undergo renovation as well, according to a status report on the PDC website.

These are all made possible by the General Obligation bonds approved in the last general election, in 2016. Called Bond Issue C on the ballot, the bonds went toward the development of higher education in the state of New Mexico.

Benefiting both the main and branch campuses, the GO bonds have allowed the University to pursue its recent and continuing program focused on campus renewal, Coburn said.

The bonds will cover about $27,000,000 of the building’s $65,746,710 price tag, according to the status report.

The recent renovation of La Posada was not financed by the bond, as the operating company is a separate entity from the University, said Rachel Stone, community outreach specialist for Institutional Support Services.

In an example of the student body taking an active role in their University’s development Stone said the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico had a hand in the project’s inception and initial planning in 2015 and 2016. ASUNM also helped to assign bond funds to this and several other projects.

For many students, PAIS will be the center of their class schedules. For some graduate students and faculty, it will also be the center of their research efforts, Coburn said.

She said the building presents a substantial upgrade to the University’s research capability.

“It’s a wonderful example of the University investing in high research,” Stone said.

James Goodman is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.