Last-minute moves cause concerns

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Education: Portable classrooms in place just in time for start of school

By Tris DeRoma

For many parents that have kids attending the middle school this year, it was worry enough knowing their kids were going to be getting an education in a virtual construction zone as the middle school undergoes a multi-million dollar, year-long renovation.

As the summer wore on and the first day of school loomed closer and closer, worry turned to frustration as the portable classrooms meant for the middle school students just sat in a lot outside Los Alamos High School, with no plans to move them in sight.

Add to that the decision to move the portable classrooms was delayed by two more weeks due to a complaint from one of the project’s losing bidders. The uncertainty and delays brought many parents to their breaking point.

Even School Board President Kevin Honnell was frustrated.

“There was a lot of concern about this. I had to watch, like the rest of the residents driving back and forth on Diamond Drive, the calendar days peel by with nothing being done,” Honnell said.

But at Tuesday’s  Los Alamos Public Schools Board of Education meeting, he and others finally got their answers from McCarthy spokesman David Wharram.

“What I learned tonight is that there was a tremendous effort going on behind the scenes, and that there were logical explanations for everything that was happening,” Honnell said. “I came in tonight ready to pound my fist on the table and left with my eyes open and very appreciative of the job that people had been quietly and tirelessly doing.”

According to Wharram, ever since May, McCarthy and school officials have been working literally around the clock to get the classrooms up to 1 Hawk Dr. and installed properly. Wharram added that that even the school’s principal Rex Kilburn, was tossed into the effort moving furniture into the classrooms late into many a night in order to be ready for Aug. 15, the first day of school.

“The whole effort to get those in place was quite immense,” Wharram said. “I know if you go there now and look at them, you’d look, and say, ‘well, it’s a classroom, what’s so difficult about that?’ ”

Wharram said there were all sorts of factors that caused the delays, the complaint that held up progress by a rival construction firm, being one of them.

“For one, these weren’t just ordinary trailers,” Wharram said. “There are very few companies in New Mexico that are equipped to move these types of buildings and at about the same time we were doing this, other schools around the state were hiring the same companies to do the same thing. We had to really push to get our request filled.”

He also said at the meeting they saved money by lining up and installing all the necessary lines and hookups before moving the 19 trailers. “Each trailer costs about $2,700 to move, so by moving them once we were able to save the school system a significant amount of money,” Wharram said.

Wharram also added McCarthy took on the overtime, not the taxpayers. “McCarthy decided to take on the overtime because the middle school project is one of its first construction projects in Los Alamos, and it wants to make a good impression and please everyone.”

The reason the overtime occurred in the first place was because though McCarthy had 50 days to carry out the project, the two-week delay seriously crippled their timeline. Despite that, Wharram said the portable classrooms are all hooked up and ready to receive students.

“I think we did great, in spite of  the fact that we just had 30 days to do a job that would normally take 50,” Wharram said.

LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt also left the meeting feeling good about the project.

“It was incredible what they (McCarthy) did over the summer, having to pull all these pieces together between the middle school and the high school. A job well done,” Schmidt said.