Multi-year underground repair project underway


Mitchell Allred

Construction on Stewart Street revealed a multi-year underground repair plan. The massive hole pictured above occupies the most of the west intersection in front of O’Donnell Hall.

Construction on Stewart Street near O’Donnell Hall is the first step in a multi-year repair plan. 

A five-year repair project was set into action due to “severely deteriorated” conditions in New Mexico State University’s underground system of utility tunnels.  

A recent replacement repair plan from NMSU Facilities and Services states, “NMSU is actively repairing section[s] of the utility tunnel system, which services the majority of buildings on campus.” 

The tunnels run certain necessities to buildings all around campus— steam, chilled water, gas, domestic water and electricity. Reparations must be made to the tunnels after a structural integrity study deemed them “critical” in 2013 and 2016. Repairs have been made since 2013, but as the deterioration of certain areas progressed, more repairs must be made. 

Heather Watenpaugh, NMSU’s University Architect, emphasized the tunnels’ importance. 

“It’s integral to the functioning for everything that runs through the tunnels,” Watenpaugh said. “(Repair is) absolutely necessary.” 

Though the repair plan is set to take five years to complete, certain areas will reopen as they are completed. Completion for construction next to O’Donnell could possibly be in a few months, Watenpaugh said. 

“The rough estimate for completion [near O’Donnell] would be the end of this semester,” Watenpaugh said.  “A lot of it depends on what they uncover when they’re down there.” 

The utility tunnel system is roughly 50-60 years old, and still services most of the buildings on campus. Reparations have an estimated cost of $10 million. 

Watenpaugh said the age of the tunnels and the lack of proper maintenance led to the system’s deterioration.  

“A majority of the priority area had corrosion issues and water infiltration,” Watenpaugh said.  

NMSU has money set aside for construction and repairs in its building, repair and renewal funds. Money from the state has been requested, none has been granted as of now, Watenpaugh said. 

“We’ve requested funding [of $3 million] from the state to assist us,” Watenpaugh said. “If that funding is met then we would be able to complete [repairs in 5 years].” 

Other steps in the repair plan include the consistent maintenance and prevention of deterioration for other areas in the utility tunnel system. If other areas become a concern, repairs may be put into action as those areas would be closed off.  

“[The tunnels] will always be a concern. We need to continually be watching the status of the tunnels to help alleviate further deterioration,” Watenpaugh said. “[NMSU Facilities and Services is] identifying the highest priority critical areas so that we can maintain the functioning of the utilities in the tunnels and the safety for [New Mexico State University] in general.” 

Facilities and Services have also taken precautions to stop future deterioration based on the observation that certain sections of the tunnel system had roof damage and water infiltration issues. 

“We no longer are allowing large vehicles to be passing over the tunnels in any location that we can prevent,” Watenpaugh said. “[Facilities and Services is] making sure that we’re keeping as much water away from the tunnel structures.” 

While current construction on Stewart Street may be completed by the end of the fall semester, students may be inconvenienced by future construction in other areas. All utility tunnel repairs are planned to be completed by 2023. 

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