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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The nearly abandoned mining town of Playas, N.M., is about to teem with activity as an anti-terrorist training center begins operations in a matter of weeks.
The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology purchased the former Phelps Dodge Corp. town for $5 million on Wednesday, a day after getting the go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
While plans to transform Playas into a training center have been in the works for months, the five-year training agreement with the government allowed for the real estate deal to be finalized and for the creation of the National Emergency Response Training, Research and Development Center.
"My feeling yesterday was simply of elation," New Mexico Tech President Daniel Lopez said in a telephone interview. "We've done a lot of legwork in anticipation, but we have not been able to pull the trigger because we did not own the property."
Now that Playas, in southwestern New Mexico, has been sold to the university, Lopez said he hoped two projects could be under way by next month.
The Department of Defense (news - web sites) will work with a South American country on joint anti-terrorist exercises, Lopez said. He said he could not disclose the country's name.
And the U.S. Army and Tech's Energetic Materials and Testing Center will conduct a joint test on a new sensor that can be used outside a building to detect people, ammunition and weapons inside, he said.
Playas ? built by Phelps Dodge in 1972 ? is a 640-acre township that contains 259 company-owned homes, a 25-unit apartment complex, community center, grocery store, medical clinic, air strip and has 1,200 surrounding acres.
The setting provides an ideal classroom to train police officers, firefighters and others in simulated terrorist attacks and other disasters. Trainers hope to set up scenarios using Playas homes and buildings, and fly airplanes and helicopters over the town.
About 60 residents still live in the town, which had a peak population of about 1,000 in the 1970s.
"Most people that I've talked to (who) live out here are welcoming it," said resident Norman Wright. "They're looking for a new opportunity, a new employer."
Lopez said New Mexico Tech hopes to hire about 200 people over the next five years. He estimates the training center's first-year operating budget will be between $3 million and $5 million in federal money and private contracts.
Tech ? a science and engineering university that grew out of the New Mexico School of Mines ? has done military research for decades and has helped train thousands of police and firefighters. The campus is located in the center of the state, but operates various projects, like the Playas training center, in other regions.
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