Anti-terror center shake-up sees layoffs

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The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology has laid off all 70 members of its support staff in a complete restructure of its anti-terrorism and law enforcement training center in Playas.

The Playas and Training Research Center, which the university established after buying the town of Playas for $5 million in 2004, is losing money and needs to be brought to financial health, spokesman Thomas Guengerich said. However, research and training at the center will continue uninterrupted, according to the university.

The center is known for it’s highly realistic trainings. For example, soldiers readying for Middle East deployments can train in an mock Afghan village with dozens of actors dressed as Afghan villagers.

In an effort to reduce costs, Tech is closing its on-site restaurant, general store and day-care center, along with laying off 70 employees. Guengerich said the university plans to hire back many of those employees in a different capacity. The university is “also getting out of the housing business,” according to a news release. Employees who live in the 20 homes the university leases to them will be asked to leave in 45 days, and Tech will soon start looking for a contractor to handle the leases.

The university also plans on contracting out some of the positions lost in the restructuring, such as custodial workers. And it has hired Lordsburg-based Kranberry’s Family Restaurant to provide food services at the center.

“Playas was to some extent running itself as a little village, as a little town, as opposed to being focused on the core mission being a training center. So we’re in this restructuring. We’re focusing on our mission as educators and our training programs,” Guengerich said.

Guengerich said he did not know how much money the training center is losing, but said it generates about $12 million in revenue annually. He said the university has also yet to calculate how much money will be saved by laying off the employees.

The training center has multiple million-dollar contracts with the military and other law enforcement bodies. Last year, it won a 5-year, $27.5 million contract with a private British company to train personnel for oversees deployment.

In addition to eliminating jobs, Tech has also reassigned the director of the training center and placed Robert Bezanson, chief of staff for parent organization Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, in charge.

Guengerich said Bezanson “has marching orders to get Playas into a secure and stable existence.”

Bezanson will oversee a full review of the training center’s inventory, Guengerich said.

Tech purchased Playas from Phelps Dodge Mining Company in 2004. The town, with more than 250 homes, was built to house copper miners and their families.

The center now hosts training for homeland security, oversees deployments and other missions. The United States Department of Defense is a major client.

Despite the changes, Tech president Daniel H. Lopez remains optimistic, saying in a statement that the center “has a solid revenue base and is a highly technical and competent organization.”

“However, the business model is not appropriate for the kind of work we’re doing,” he said.