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New center being considered

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The facility would be located in the new municipal building

By Carol A. Clark

Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series regarding the Los Alamos County Council’s consideration of four upcoming projects

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The Los Alamos Historical Society and Los Alamos County have teamed up to develop a joint project that could soon benefit archive and storage needs for both entities. The project is moving forward under the county’s new Capital Improvement Program process, which began last year.

Both entities have needs for more space and better storage conditions, according to local project representatives. The historical society’s collection is currently housed in Fuller Lodge. County records are currently in temporary storage at the county warehouse.

County communications officer Julie Habiger explained that during the last year, members of the historic society, the Fuller Lodge/Historic Districts Advisory Board (FL/HDAB) and county staff have worked on a site needs assessment with Architectural Research Consultants, Inc. (ARC). Their goal being to maximize efficiencies by sharing spaces wherever possible and by sharing costly building systems such as heating ventilation and air conditioning, along with security and alarm systems, she said.

The recommended location for the joint center is next to the new municipal building on the former Los Alamos Apartments site, just east of the Bradbury Museum downtown on Central Avenue.

“The society’s collection of records, documents and artifacts about our history here in Los Alamos are irreplaceable, and they are of value not just to our community, but to the nation,” said Chairman Ron Wilkins of the FL/HDAB. “The current space at

Fuller Lodge was never designed to be a long-term solution. Hundreds of donations are received each year that must be carefully catalogued and stored. Donors assume and trust that the Society will preserve them, and they make every effort to do that —  but it’s just impossible given the current limitations.”

The space doesn’t offer environmental controls for factors such as temperature or humidity, he said, adding that as documents age and become more fragile, the collection is being degraded by dust, exposure to light and by insects.

Wilkins also expressed concerned about the lack of space.

“The archives are out of space and yet the donations keep coming in as individuals in our community, many who were here working on the Manhattan Project, recognize the significance of items they have and bring them to the Society,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins also addressed lack of workspace as an equally key issue. There’s no room left to work with the documents, he said, pointing to stacks of documents on shelves that are piled high within the cramped space.

“This really limits the ability for researchers to safely and effectively retrieve and examine various articles,” Wilkins said.

The authors of dozens of books, including Pulitzer Prize winners, have used the archive’s material in developing their manuscripts and the county should have an adequate facility that offers not only proper storage, but a place for research to occur, he said.

Unlike county records, which can be disposed of after a certain period of time, the historical society retains all historical artifacts, records and other historical collections. “We have a responsibility to the public to collect the documents and artifacts for the education and enjoyment of posterity, yet the current space in the lodge doesn’t meet present day curatorial and environmental standards,” he said.

Wilkins said historical society members are very concerned about the risk of fire and loss of the entire collection because there is no sprinkler system in Fuller Lodge in the archives area.

There have been several life and safety code violations issued by the Fire Marshal in past years, he added, such as the fact that the current floor loading for files and low ceilings are a problem. These kinds of structural deficiencies inside Fuller Lodge exacerbate the issues of storage and retrieval and lead to the collection taking up even more floor space to make up for the lack of ceiling height.

“Fuller Lodge is a wonderful facility but it was never designed to be a historical archives,” he said.

The study project benchmarked the proposed space needs to a few other similar facilities, according to the county’s Capital Projects and Facilities Director Anne Laurent. She points to examples such as the New Mexico State Archives and Records Center in Santa Fe.

The council recognized the potential benefits in having the two organizations co-located in one facility when they approved the joint study in May 2008 during FY09 budget hearings, she said. Earlier this year, council approved adding this project proposal as an optional “add alternate” to the Municipal Building design-build Request for Proposals to benefit from the economies of scale that a larger, combined project might realize.

The county hired a records administrator last year and has made huge strides in reducing the number of records that were stored in the former county warehouse at the Trinity Site Annex building, Laurent said, adding that thousands of boxes of documents that were no longer required to be stored under state records retention laws have been catalogued. They were either properly destroyed or transferred to the state for long-term historical records storage.

The county’s records were originally designed to be stored in temporary “pods”at the Airport Basin Site (renamed Pajarito Cliffs Site), according to Laurent, but after re-examining space at the warehouse, the staff found a room and some limited, short-term storage to house the records while they are being sorted and catalogued.

“It’s a Band-Aid fix for now, however, the need for a permanent solution for our records remains unchanged, “ she said, pointing out that temperature and humidity controls, along with fire protection and research space amenities for public records inspection, are needs that the county shares with the historic archives.

The anticipated construction cost for the joint facility is approximately $4.5 million, Laurent said, with a total project cost of about $6.4 million.

Co-locating both facilities at the municipal building site has the added benefit of reducing costs such site preparation and site development. The facility would be about 17,000 square feet, Laurent said.

“Preliminary construction costs for two stand-alone facilities would easily exceed $5 million, and would lack the synergy, economies of scale and operational savings in the long run that can be recognized when the two facilities are combined,” she said.

Wilkins agreed, saying he’s very excited about the prospects of moving forward on the joint project.

“Community support so far has been encouraging,” he said, adding that he hopes the public will turn out to give council their feedback at the upcoming June 8 council meeting at which the archives/records center is being considered. If approved, the design would become part of the design/build process for the new municipal building. That contract is expected to be awarded in late August. Historical society members are anxious to show the public the existing facilities at Fuller Lodge to validate the urgent need for new space, Wilkins said adding that they are hosting a public tour of the archives space from 3-5:30 p.m. June 2 at Fuller Lodge with refreshments.

In addition to considering approval of Phase 2 for a Historic Archives/County Records Center,council also will consider the Golf Course Community Building, the White Rock Visitor’s Center Complex and an upgrade to the North Mesa Ballfield lights during its June 8 meeting.

The county has posted information about each of the four projects at www.losalamosnm.us.