Mescalero Apache reward contractor with more work

MESCALERO, N.M. ? Happy with the job that a Dallas-based builder has done on its new K-12 school, the Mescalero Apache tribe has now given it a big contract to refurbish its hotel and casino.

Centex Construction Co. has been awarded the $85-million facelift of the tribe's Inn of the Mountain Gods and Casino Apache, as well as a separate project for a $6-million senior health-care facility.

A brand new 218,000-square-foot, $40.5-million K-12 school has been completed by Centex and will open for business Aug. 19.

The Worth Group, of Englewood, Colo., will design the hotel/casino project for Centex.

Six lenders are bidding to finance the project, which will be repaid out of casino revenues, said tribal chief financial officer Thomas Gallagher.

The existing 250-room hotel, built in 1975 for $20 million, will receive a complete rebuild, with a conference center, spa, ballrooms and retail shops. The spa will comprise 20,000 square feet. The adjoining casino will measure 40,000 square feet and contain 1,000 slot machines and 25 gaming tables.

Rick Johnson, Centex executive overseeing the project, said the new projects will use many of the same people who had worked on the K-12 job.

Currently, Casino Apache is a separate facility on the grounds of the hotel, located in the Sacramento Mountains at an elevation of 7,200 feet on the shore of Lake Mescalero. The Inn currently has a convention service capability of 400 people.

It also has a big roster of recreation activities, including golf, hunting, clay shooting, riding and skiing. The Inn currently also has a bakery, two lounges, a gift shop (where patent medicine is available), and a boutique that features southwestern style designer jewelry.

In addition to the hotel/casino, the Mescalero Apache economy includes a telecom firm, a cattle operation, a couple of timber mills and a ski resort, said Gallagher.

The eldercare facility is set to start construction in June. It will include a much-needed kidney dialysis unit, a 40-bed nursing home and a 20-bed assisted living facility. Tribal members needing dialysis now must make a 60-mile round trip for the treatment.

Gallagher said the tribe invested $12 million in equity on the K-12 school and another $4 million on fixtures, furniture and equipment for the building, located on White Mountain Drive. The rest has been funded by a construction loan from two Texas banks, State National and Texas Independent.

The tribe will seek a permanent mortgage through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commercial Facility loan guarantee program. Gallagher said USDA officials have told him that the 90-percent guaranteed loan would represent the largest project it has ever guaranteed.

Gallagher said tribal president Sara Misquez pushed for the new school shortly after her election, as high school students were in substandard trailers. An interim school was built within several months.

It will have the capacity to house 1,600 students, and will include a computer technology lab, media center, two gyms, athletic fields and an auditorium. Half of the tribe's 4,000 members are under age 19, Gallagher said.

The Orlando, Fla.-based firm of Schenkel Shultz provided the design, which works around a central courtyard. High-schoolers will be separated from younger students at opposite ends of the courtyard.

Classrooms have a modular design, with educational wings grouped into "neighborhoods" to facilitate team teaching.

Financing for the school is unusual in that the tribe committed to the huge project without having prior federal funding, said Centex. Gallagher said the tribe took that route because it was 19th on BIA's priority list for schools at that time, which could have translated into a decade-long wait.

Centex hired many local subcontractors on the job, including ones from Ruidoso, Albuquerque, Alamogordo, Las Cruces and El Paso.

Leslee Mallinson, marketing manager for Centex, said Centex is the top builder of health-care facilities in the country. The company has built schools worth $80 million across the country, as well as 60 hotel/casino projects, totaling $2 billion.