District to add after-hours maintenance

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Commercial property > Move aims to better position LAPS as a landlord

By Tris DeRoma

In an effort to be a better landlord to its clients the Los Alamos Public Schools System, the district is looking to hire an on-call, off-hour person to handle maintenance issues. According to school officials, the person they’re looking for would have the skills to handle anything from a clogged toilet to a blackout.

According to District Assets Manager Joan Ahlers, there have been too many incidents in the last few months where their biggest client, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, has had some rough nights due to a clogged toilet or a blown fuse.

“We’ve all been working really hard to improve our relationship with the lab,” Ahlers said to the board. She later added that the lab’s noted they get better service from other landlords after 3:30 p.m. “All I’m trying to do is position us so we can be competitive,” Ahlers said.

What the administration had in mind was a $500 a month stipend to be paid to one of the school’s custodians to be on call after regular operating hours.

“Our maintenance staff leave at 3:30 p.m. and report back to work at 6:30 a.m. What I would like to recommend is a stipend for one of our employees to act in an on-call basis,” Ahlers said to the board, adding the particular employee would be on call from 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. at night during the week.

Besides the $500 a month stipend, the employee would bill $25 an hour for the actual call.

“The lab will be hiring a half-time person for this very issue,” said Ahlers. “What I would like to do by offering this, we are showing the lab our commitment to them and that we are validating their concerns.”

Ahlers and the board agreed that the best employee for the job would be someone who is mechanically inclined, is local and has badge clearance. The funds for the stipend would come from the income the district receives from its rent/lease program.

The only real question the board had was if putting such specific criteria was allowed by law, especially the requirement they be Los Alamos residents.

Board President Jim Hall hoped there wasn’t going to be a problem with that.

“If they live in Taos, then this isn’t going to work,” Hall said. Hall also requested he be put at the end of the call tree. “If I get a call, then we are going to have to have another discussion,” he said. Hall also suggested that the district have a backup just in case their candidate calls out sick or goes on vacation.

Hall also asked what would happen if said person received a call for an incident that went past 11:30 p.m. “Does the person just walk out at 11:30, do they just quit,” he asked.

Ahlers said no, the person would not just quit. “If a call came in at 10:30 and it looked like the problem was going to take two hours to fix, I would make the exception that they would continue to work,” Ahlers said.

Hall also suggested securing outside contractors specialized in electrical, mechanical and plumbing just in case.

“If our person gets there and this is a bigger deal than they thought, they should have a list so they could call so-and-so plumbing, etc., so that person has a backup,” he said.

Finally Hall commented that he was glad this issue is being resolved.

“I absolutely believe we have to do this,” he said. “If you’re a professional landlord, this is all in place. There is more commercial space available now in Los Alamos than there’s ever been. So, we are now not in a given situation, this is highly competitive.”

There was one concern however from Ellen Mills, president of the local teacher’s union. She thought with all the past conversation and debate regarding overcrowded classrooms the board has had with staff and the public, the board needs to carefully explain why they’re adding another person. (Earlier this month, the board passed a budget that included a two percent raise for teachers).

“My concern is that the staff and the public perception,” she said during the meeting. “...That’s not to say it’s not needed...that’s not my concern, but I think we need to do a very good job explaining to our staff members why indeed this is happening and why they are being asked to pick up more responsibility.

Hall replied, saying the district doesn’t really have a choice at this point.

“What’s changed is what I said earlier. There is more commercial property for rent in Los Alamos than ever before, and most of it is in better condition than ours,” he said. The lab is cutting back, trying to save money wherever it can, and we have to start looking more like a commercial landlord. It’s actually much cheaper than hiring an additional person. if we had to hire another person, it would be a lot more expensive; the way we’re doing it now is just assisting someone else’s salary.”

The board then voted to move on with the hire and to include the position in the next budget.