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Franken Construction Earns Award for Highlands’ Media Arts Trolley Building

photo of building

Highlands University Media Arts and Technology Department Trolley Building
Photograph by Kirk Gittings

Las Vegas, N.M – Franken Construction earned a New Mexico Best Buildings 2017 Award for transforming a unique historic Las Vegas, New Mexico, landmark into a state-of-the-art facility for Highlands University’s Media Arts and Technology Department.

The Associated General Contractors of New Mexico made the award to Franken Construction of Las Vegas for its work on the university’s Trolley Building.

“I’m extremely proud of how my construction team resurrected this historical building into a beautiful showcase for Highlands and its outstanding media arts program,” said Jim Franken, Franken Construction president.

The Highlands University Trolley Building, built in 1905 and restored and expanded from 2015 to 2016, blends its original Romanesque architectural style with a sleek modern industrial design. Baker Architecture + Design of Albuquerque are the project architects.

The building is now home for the Highlands Media Arts and Technology Department and includes highlights like classroom labs equipped with computer workstations with the latest design and multimedia software, a modern television studio for creating video with special effects, labs for studio photography and audio mixing, an electronics maker space, 3-D printers, and a large-scale laser cutter.

Classes began in the 21,027-square-foot Trolley Building Aug. 17, 2017, the first day of fall semester.

Franken said a major highlight of the project was completing it on time and within budget as promised to the university’s Board of Regents, despite a number of unexpected challenges such as a tunnel system with thick, fortified concrete walls and hitting groundwater from the nearby Gallinas River.

“I’m grateful to the university’s Board of Regents Chairman Leveo Sánchez and the entire board for trusting us with this important project,” Franken said.

Franken Construction also won two first place awards from the Associated General Contractors of New Mexico for the Trolley Building: one for projects with a $5-million to $10-million total construction cost and one for construction management.

Sylvia Baca, facilities and planning director for Highlands, was the project manager and the university’s representative for the Trolley Building.

“Franken Construction offered solid solutions throughout the complex Trolley Building project, especially Larry Franken the project superintendent,” Baca said. “Phillip Martínez, Franken project manager, coordinated all the purchases from a spec book the size of the L.A. phone book.”

Over the years, Franken Construction has won a number of AGC New Mexico Best Building Awards for projects it completed for Highlands. Historical Ilfeld Auditorium was another renovation award-winner for the general contractor.

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.

The total cost for the Trolley Building project was $8.3 million, which includes construction, media arts equipment, furnishings and professional services like architects, engineers and historical consultants.

Funding for the Trolley Building comes from state voter-approved $6 million in general obligation higher education bonds as well as a $2.3-million New Mexico legislative appropriation.