District mulls upgrades

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Business > Trustees eye vulnerability as glut of commercial buildings loom on horizon

By Tris DeRoma

With the availability of commercial real estate space in the Los Alamos market already starting to widen, the Los Alamos Public Schools is looking to keep on top of the changes by doing a little house cleaning.

Besides being a school system to 3,000 plus students, the district is also one of the biggest landlords in town, in that it owns several commercial properties that house everything from small businesses to some off-site offices of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Most of the buildings were at one time schools, revamped into commercial property as the population of school children in Los Alamos shrank through the years.

The school district makes more than $2 million a year from leasing its properties, and will be soon adding to those revenues from the Trinity Site, once the new Smith’s Marketplace retail space is up and running on
Trinity Drive.

While LANL’s relationship with the schools has helped keep its properties occupied in a soft market, the district’s chief operations officer Joan Ahlers informed the Los Alamos Board of Education recently that this could change.

“LAPS may be in a difficult position due to the change in the rental real estate market,” she said in a report to the board during one of its work sessions. “There is a surplus of rental property currently available; therefore, the competition is increasing for us. I would strongly urge the board to consider the concept of reinvesting in our leased facilities.”

She also reminded them that the market is going to become even more open once Smith’s moves from its 40,000 square foot space on Central Avenue to its new store on Trinity Drive. That move could happen as soon as next summer.

While LANL and other clients have been relatively happy with the district as a landlord, most of the properties leased by the district were built in the 1950s.

While the buildings are in good condition, Ahlers told the board this may be time to reinvest in the properties, to go beyond solving the usual maintenance issues.

“I need to clarify that there is a difference between maintenance and capital investment,” she said. Maintenance includes items such as sidewalk replacement, roof repairs, parking lot striping, carpet replacement, painting, maintenance of HVAC, etc… Capital investment would include facade upgrades, roof replacement, window and door replacement, bathroom remodel/upgrade, installation of AC or re-ducting a building etc.”

Ahlers noted if the board chose to start a reinvestment program, it could start with one of the district’s most visible properties, the Canyon Complex, located in the triangle of East Road, Fourth Street and Canyon Road.

The project would include giving the complex a facade upgrade, bathroom remodel and HVAC duct work. The $700,000 would come from the county’s schools capital fund.

In her report, Ahlers said she believes the district could acquire the funds through a petition to the county, if it was backed by the school board.

“LAPS would contribute approximately (an additional) $350,000 to get the work designed and completed,” she said.
The board asked for more information on Ahlers’ plan. They asked her to return in the coming months with more details.

“We were genuinely in favor of her plan,” said Jim Hall, president of the school board. “We thought it was very necessary and asked her to come back soon with a more specific plan.”