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In January of 2009, the Los Alamos Public Schools (LAPS) will hold a bond election. For the first time in a decade, the school district staff is asking voters to consider an increase in the mill rate. This increase in taxes to property owners will fund renovations to aging school facilities.
As always when large capital projects are being considered, voters have questions about the safeguards and assurances in place to protect the intention of the funding. With the first couple of bond issues in 1998 and 2000, the bond funds were assigned to as many projects as possible and no contingency funding was put in place.
As a result of unanticipated factors and costs exceeding estimates, all of the proposed bond projects could not be completed. In subsequent bonds, industry-standard contingencies at around 20 percent have been included, in order to provide for unforeseen costs.
With recommendations from the LAPS Facilities Planning Committee and professional advice from Architectural Research Consultants, LAPS school board now has in place the 20 year Facilities Plan. Using this document, the board is responsible for approving the proposed capital improvement projects and timeline.
The projects are then coordinated, scheduled and managed by the LAPS District Capital Project Manager Herb McLean; and a schedule of work is created. In the past few years, bond dollars have funded new portable buildings, upgrades to electrical systems, efficient heating and ventilation systems for multiple sites, secure exit doors, new roofing, new boilers and other projects.
Sometimes, a change in a school’s administration, fluctuations in construction costs and unforeseen maintenance issues have changed in the list of projects.
These changes usually originate from site facilities committees, who are often first to suggest a need to reallocate funding.
Changes in the projects are discussed with the bond oversight committee. The oversight committee views when, where and how bond dollars are spent. The committee meets every four to six weeks to review the lists of proposed projects and what stage of construction they are in. The meetings are open to the public, announced in advance, and minutes from previous meetings can be found on the LAPS website at www.laschools.net.
At each meeting the bond oversight committee views a list, sorted by school, of all the proposed projects in the district. This list details the budget requirements, and whether a project is in design, approval, under construction, or completed.
The committee hears what and why changes might need to be made to the original plan and budget. Frequently, the committee will meet at a school to view first hand a completed project and how Bond dollars have improved that location or to view a trouble spot that might require a change to the plan.
In these past several years, many scheduled improvement projects were delayed or tabled due to the increasing need to repair aging facilities.
With the majority of the school district’s structures older than 50 years, LAPS is now spending funds simply trying to keep these buildings alive. Administrators believe serious renovations are required in order to meet students’ needs for a quality education.