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Legislation proposes sale of Roswell property; RIAC site used to be rehabilitation center

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Some Roswell city officials would like to see this state-owned land on Gail Harris Street near East Wells Street available for future development. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Four local state legislators are sponsoring a bill that would authorize the state to sell some property located within the Roswell Industrial Air Center, possibly for use by the city in the future.

House Joint Resolution 9 would permit the state’s General Services Department to sell off about 16 acres at 31 Gail Harris Drive.

“The old rehabilitation center that used to be there was demolished several years ago, and now it is just vacant land,” said Rep. Greg Nibert (R-Roswell).

Nibert said that city of Roswell leaders asked Chaves County legislators to introduce the bill. He said he assumes that the city will want to purchase it if the bill is approved.

City Manager Joe Neeb said that the matter has yet to come to a vote before the City Council, but that city leaders would like to see the land developed in the future.

“It is the city’s position that this land would be more valuable to see as a developed parcel,” he said in an email. “Any development could include additional city services for the airport and the surrounding neighborhood.”

He added that the city would welcome an opportunity to partner with the state on a project, as it is doing with a planned $6.5 million Game and Fish administrative complex near Cielo Grande Recreation Area on the northwest side of the city.

According to an online status notification about the bill, the other sponsors for the House Joint Resolution 9 are Reps. Bob Wooley and Candy Spence Ezzell, both Republicans from Roswell, and Rep. James Townsend (R-Artesia).

The proposed legislation was introduced Wednesday and has been referred to the House Committee on Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs, which is scheduled to discuss it Tuesday. The bill also is expected to be heard by the House Judicial Committee before moving for a vote.

The federal government deeded the land to the state in 1980, according to the bill.

For more than four decades, the New Mexico Rehabilitation Center operated there, but it closed in 2011 after moving to a building further south on Gail Harris Drive near the campus of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. Asbestos in the old structure made officials decide to build a new building rather than do renovations.

In January 2014, the state spent $1.3 million to tear down the main structures, leaving only a laundry facility at the site.

City officials had said that the vacant building was a public hazard, having been the site of several acts of vandalism. The city moved to condemn it in June 2013, ending the plans of some in the community to use the building for a community center or homeless center.

The U.S. government owned the building after the closure of the air base in 1967. The state of New Mexico began operating the rehabilitation hospital there in 1968.

According to the bill, the state would be required to sell the property for at least $100,000.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.