ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The University of New Mexico is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a tent for the Athletic Department that it ultimately plans to get rid of.
On Special Assignment, KRQE News 13 asked UNM Administrators if this is a wise use of public funds.
Behind every big sporting event is a tough training regimen. During the week you can find UNM athletes working out inside a tent.
“It was a temporary facility I mean because the need was immediate,” explained Chris Vallejos, Associate Vice President of UNM Institutional Support Services. “It’s morphed into a bigger facility than we probably anticipated back three years ago because of the need of our athletes to train in that facility.”
As Vallejos explained, the workout facility isn’t your average tent. The 8,000 square foot structure comes equipped with a heating and cooling system. It’s filled wall-to-wall with workout equipment for student athletes — what UNM calls the ‘Olympic Sports Weight Room.’
The tent comes with a hefty price tag.
“The other two weight rooms at the basketball facility and football cannot handle that many athletes,” said Vallejos. “We have approximately 430 student athletes that need to train within a four to five hour period and so that’s why this facility is needed.”
UNM doesn’t own the tent. Invoices obtained by KRQE News 13 show UNM making monthly payments for the tent as high as $10,531. Add it all up and the university has spent roughly $314,939.26 on the tent since 2014. Funds for the tent rental come out of UNM’s Athletic Department budget.
When asked if this is a wise use of public funds, Vallejos replied, “Yes it is. There’s a capital need and that’s the decision we made at the UNM Athletics.”
According to a tent vendor quote, on paper it appears UNM could have paid for three of the tents by now. UNM Administrators argue that doesn’t account for the cost of installation, permitting and utilities.
“No, that’s probably a base price for a tent but there’s a lot of infrastructure that goes into it,” said Vallejos.
It’s something UNM says it couldn’t afford out right. Vallejos also said the university didn’t have the funds to build a permanent facility, which he claims will cost close to $2 million – a fundraising goal UNM is still trying to reach.
“We’re halfway there,” said Vallejos. “We’ve had a large donation, we’re actively designing a new facility so we can continue to court donors.”
If the university didn’t have enough money for a permanent building or even a tent, one might wonder why its spending so much money on a rental facility. Couldn’t UNM just rent to own? Vallejos claims there’s a perfectly good explanation.
“So we worked with our procurement department, you can’t lease to purchase that’s against the state procurement code. So you have to look at other ways and renting without owning is the way to go besides buying it out right,” Vallejos explained.
According to the state Legislative Finance Committee, there’s nothing in the procurement code that speaks to this issue. Lease purchases are allowed by law, as long as there’s a clause in the agreement that allows the state to get out of it at any time.
A communications officer for UNM later clarified that the department actually points to case law in which the “Purchasing Department makes its assessment that we cannot enter into a lease/rent for purchase agreement for a structure, based on the NM Supreme Court decision.”
According to records, UNM made monthly payments of $8,600 in 2014 and 2015 for the rental, plus an additional $1,200 a month for an A/C unit. Last year the tent rental costs did go down.
“We’ve renegotiated with the tent vendor and we’ve brought that cost down over the last few years where you see the invoices down from $10,000 to $5,500 I think it is now,” Vallejos explained.
Once the money is raised for a real building, the tent will disappear. “What are we gonna do with that tent after?” Vallejos said. “We don’t want to store it and pay costs for it so that’s why we’re renting it.”
Ultimately, UNM stands by its decision to rent the tent for all these years. “The immediate need was solved, we have something to show because our athletes are comfortable, they’re able to train.”
For now, athletes from every sport except basketball and football use the facility year-round. That, UNM said is worth the price.
UNM expects to raise the $2 million and build a permanent workout facility in the next two to three years, Vallejos said. Until then, it’ll continue renting the tent.Photos: Invoices from December 2014, January 2015 and October 2017.