Contract Awarded for Historic Trolley Building Project

Image: Baker Architecture + Design


Las Vegas, N.M  – The Highlands University Board of Regents awarded the construction contract for the historic Trolley Building project to Franken Construction of Las Vegas in a public hearing May 18.

The Trolley Building will be transformed into a state-of-the-art facility for the Media Arts Department. Construction for the 21,027-square-foot restoration and expansion project is expected to begin in June 2015 and be completed in June 2016.

“The Trolley Building is a wonderful marriage of a Las Vegas historic landmark and a technologically advanced program that will expand educational opportunities for our media arts students and the program’s impact on cultural institutions across the state,” said Jim Fries, Highlands University president.

The Trolley Building is at 12th Street and San Francisco Avenue.

“With this new facility we can offer our students an exceptional cutting-edge learning environment and compete with any media arts school in the nation,” said Kerry Loewen, chair of the Media Arts Department.  “The architects, Baker Architecture + Design from Albuquerque, worked magic to meet all of our program needs while preserving the historic structure and character of this majestic building.”

Loewen said all the spaces in the building are designed to be versatile and flexible while also adapting to ever-changing technology. He said some of the highlights of the building include:

  • Three classroom labs all equipped with 16 computer workstations with the latest design and multimedia software along with 85-inch monitors with ultra high-definition.
  • Large-scale laser cutters and 3D printers.
  • A modern television studio for creating video with special effects.
  • A large equipment library that gives students access to professional photography and video equipment.
  • A studio for graduate student work and research projects.
  • A gallery space in the lobby.

“This building will be a recruiting tool for both students and faculty,” Loewen said.

Built in 1905, the Trolley Building is a unique historic and architectural landmark built in the classic Romanesque style. It is on both the state and national historic registries. Every standing exterior wall and window will be preserved in the completed building, which blends history with a modern industrial design.

The addition to the original building includes corten steel exterior walls with a large laser-cut historic map of Las Vegas at the entrance. A screen mounted on the exterior wall will showcase media arts students’ films.

Some of the architectural features of the building’s one-story interior include exposed stone walls and polished concrete floors inlaid with stainless steel rails to evoke the history of the trolley cars that rolled into the building. Original ironwork is exposed to add more historical flavor.

The building is designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver, a high-level measure of green building practices and sustainability.

Sylvia Baca, interim facilities and planning director at Highlands, is the project manager for the Trolley project. Clay Simmons of Progressive Construction Management is the construction manager.

 “The Request for Proposal (RFP) process used for the general contractor for this building project was based on qualifications rather than the lowest bid,” Baca said. “The role of the construction manager is to keep the project moving forward in a timely manner while ensuring quality control.”

Over the years, Franken Construction has completed a number of historical renovations, such as Highlands’ Ilfeld Auditorium and the Montezuma Castle at the United World College – USA.

Franken Construction also completed several new construction projects for Highlands such as the university’s Viles-Crimmin Residence Hall – the first university residence hall in the state to be LEED certified – and the Ivan Hilton Science Building.  The company’s clients include the University of New Mexico and numerous school districts, among others.

The total building cost for the Trolley Building project is $8.3 million and includes every element of the project: construction, media arts equipment, furnishings and professional services such as architects, engineers and historical consultants.

Funding for the Trolley Building comes from state voter-approved $6 million in General Obligation Bond C for Higher Education as well as a $2.3 million legislative appropriation.

The Trolley Building is woven into the history of Las Vegas. Near the turn of the 20th century, Las Vegas was a bustling city that boasted one of only two electric trolley systems in the state. It operated until 1926, when the popularity of automobiles made it obsolete.

Recognizing its historical significance and close proximity to campus, Highlands purchased the trolley building in 1966 with an eye on future restoration.

Loewen said 10 years ago media arts professor Miriam Langer first envisioned the Trolley Building as a possible future home for media arts and has been a tireless advocate for this vision ever since.

“I view the Trolley Building as a legacy project for President Fries because without his leadership and support it would never have happened,” Loewen said.