Board pushes contractor for LAMS completion

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By Tris DeRoma

With at least three different dates suggested in the past month, no one is sure when construction will finally be completed at Los Alamos Middle School. 

Friday, McCarthy Construction project manager Mike Horn said they just encountered another rock bed when digging trenches for the school’s new parking lot. 

“We just encountered it yesterday afternoon,” he said. As for how long it may take for McCarthy to remove the rock, Horn said he wasn’t sure. “We are now in the process of determining the extent of it,” he said. 

Barring any more construction delays, the Los Alamos Middle School was to have its official opening Nov. 30. While the school is open now, Nov. 30 was to be the date that McCarthy Construction would have wrapped up all major construction operations on the site. 

The original end date was Nov. 26, but according to David Wharram, the project manager hired by the Los Alamos School District to oversee the construction project, an axle broke on one of the trailers carrying portable classrooms off the school’s east campus, delaying the operation for at least four days.

The relocation of the portable classrooms was to make way for McCarthy to start work on the parking lot, a crucial step toward making their Nov. 30 deadline.

Other things that remain to be done include fitting a roof on the media center, which, according to Wharram was about halfway done when he gave his progress report before the board in late September.  Also what remains to be completed is remodeling of the administrative section inside the building. District personnel are also busy testing and balancing the school’s heating and air conditioning system.

The parking lots and the school’s new courtyard seem to be the biggest deadline challenges. 

As far as the courtyard is concerned, McCarthy has to still to lay down the concrete, and install lighting.

At the same late September meeting, Wharram expressed concerns about McCarthy’s ability to get the job done on time, as the changing weather patterns in October and November can make planning crucial steps in the construction difficult. 

“You need good weather to lay down concrete,” he told the board. “...We have rain, and other weather conditions. If it gets to freezing, you can’t pour concrete.”

Also at the meeting, he predicted that McCarthy might run into another delay over encountering rock instead of soil which has led to delays in the past. 

 Last week, when the deadline was originally set for Nov. 26, at least one board member expressed concerns, too. Dr. Kevin Honnell doubted whether McCarthy was going to be out by Nov. 26 citing the very concerns Wharram expressed. Honnell also pointedly made a note of their absence from the work session as a sign that was indeed what’s going to happen.

“If I understand you right, it’s highly unlikely they are going to make the Nov. 26 completion date. While they can’t claim legitimate delays from past conditions, there seems to be enough wiggle room between now and then, between the weather, between the rock you suspect is going to be there, between the trailers we’re not moving out, that when the 26th comes and goes, the job’s not going to be done, we aren’t going to go to court, we aren’t going get any money...we’re just going to keep playing this farce to accommodate McCarthy who doesn’t even come to board meetings to be accountable for their behavior. Is this all just a waste of time, why are we doing this? They aren’t going to make the 26th date, they aren’t here to explain themselves and we’re just going to be doing this in a month.”  

Wharram also made it clear that since McCarthy has agreed to this contract extension, they must do everything possible to complete the courtyard and everything else by Nov. 26. To avoid financial penalties, McCarthy must prove they did everything possible to avoid a delay. So far, that has had held true. The relocation of the trailers was the district’s responsibility, and as far as McCarthy’s contract with the district is concerned, they are not going to be held liable for the recently discovered rock bed.