A longtime Gonzaga University trustee who has made substantial donations for campus projects also leads a major construction company that’s contracted to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Timothy Barnard, who has served on Gonzaga’s governing board since 2000, is the founder and chairman of Bozeman, Montana-based Barnard Construction Co., which recently signed a $73.3 million contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to replace a vehicle barrier in southern New Mexico with a “bollard-style” wall measuring 18 to 30 feet tall.
The wall, consisting of narrowly spaced vertical steel posts and topped with a 5-foot “anti-scaling plate,” will span a 20-mile section of the border west of New Mexico’s Santa Teresa port of entry. It is being built as part of an executive order on border security that President Donald Trump signed shortly after taking office, an early step toward fulfilling his signature campaign promise, according to officials.
“This section … is our busiest area for illegal alien apprehensions, and it has been for several years. It’s also a prime corridor for the smuggling of narcotics,” Aaron Hull, the chief patrol agent in the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, said at a news briefing when construction began last month. “The wall that we’re going to put in here is going to serve as an effective barrier to both. It’s going to allow us to make more effective use of our agents and our technology.”
Hull said the bollard wall should be completed by March.
A representative for Barnard Construction said Wednesday that the company’s federal contract bars it from publicly discussing the wall project, though The Spokesman-Review could not find such a provision in a copy of the 211-page contract provided by Customs and Border Protection. A message left with the company Thursday was not returned.
Timothy Barnard, who began studying at Gonzaga in 1971, decided to start his own business in 1975 with $1,000 to his name, a loan from his grandmother, two shovels, a pick “and all of his worldly possessions in the cab of his pickup,” according to a biography on his company’s website.
Now a major company, Barnard Construction has built dams, reservoirs, tunnels, pipelines and hydroelectric facilities across the country. The company also has undertaken environmental projects, including the 2011 removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, which restored critical spawning habitat for endangered salmon species.
Gonzaga gave Barnard a “distinguished alumni merit award” in 2004 and an honorary doctorate in 2017. He and his wife, Mary Barnard, were the primary donors behind the Della Strada Jesuit Community, a $13 million, 36,000-square-foot home for priests that opened last fall on the Gonzaga campus.
“We have deep support and gratitude for the Barnards,” Gonzaga spokesman Dave Sonntag said. “They make it possible for us to do what we do.”
Not everyone on campus has been so enthusiastic, however, about Barnard Construction’s involvement in building the border wall.
On March 1, the day news broke that his company had been awarded the contract, Timothy Barnard visited Gonzaga to deliver a speech about entrepreneurship. One student who attended the speech, Sidnee Grubb, has questioned the ethics of taking on the border wall project, suggesting it conflicts with Gonzaga’s own values. She has pointed to the university’s mission statement, which stresses “a mature commitment to dignity of the human person, social justice, diversity, intercultural competence, global engagement, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable and care for the planet.”
Grubb, 22, said she worries about the impact the wall could have for migrants seeking refuge and for the environment, and she’s written letters and met with school officials to voice her concerns.
“I know that Gonzaga and Tim Barnard and individuals that make up Gonzaga are great friends, and that he considers himself a Zag. But I just didn’t consider that to be a Zag way of being in the world, especially for such an influential position,” Grubb said. “When it comes to the kind of character that we should expect from a Zag, I think that we should expect more.”
In one letter to Gonzaga’s student newspaper, the Bulletin, Grubb noted that Barnard Construction has donated heavily to Republican campaigns, and she called on students and administrators “to take a more critical look at who we accept money from, who we invite to our inner circles and where the money leads, because it matters.”
Sonntag, the Gonzaga spokesman, said Grubb’s message has been thoughtful and well received.
“We really respect what our students have to say about our speakers and our ideas. We really embrace that activism by our students,” Sonntag said. “When we have a speaker on campus, we don’t necessarily agree with all of their beliefs and their values, and we don’t necessarily expect our students to, either.”
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