Officials target Aspen

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Education: Bulk of bond issue would fund renovation

Los Alamos Public School officials are hoping that when the district’s request-for-bonding ballot arrives in the mailboxes of Los Alamos residents in early January, residents will vote “yes” for the district to release another $20 million in general obligation bonds to help the school system rebuild its infrastructure.


If the bond request sounds familiar, it’s because residents already voted for the bond issuance back in 2009. Then, residents voted for a one-time tax increase to fund $40 million in general obligation bonds for a project dubbed the “20-year Facilities Renewal Plan.”

The district has already spent $20 million and is sending out a ballot again in early January asking residents for permission to release the next $20 million.  

While the last bond funds cycle was earmarked for improving and renovating Los Alamos High School, LAPS officials have made Aspen Elementary School the next top priority in this round, asking residents for $12.4 million in bonds to fund a total rebuild of the school. New Mexico’s Public Schools Facilities Authority has even pledged an additional $5 million toward the rebuild of Aspen — if the voters approve the bond.

The rest of the $20 million bond issuance would go toward:
• Maintenance needs for the district, $3.2 million
• Utility needs for district, $1.3 million
• Elementary school design, $800,000
• Complete middle school courtyard project, $440,000
• Middle school HVAC system, $400,000
• High school music wing design, $400,000
• Middle school gym design, $400,000
• Contingency funds, $660,000

Superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt hopes that residents say “yes” to the bond, for a variety of reasons.

“The buildings have simply outlived their usefulness,” said Schmidt, adding the school was built in the early 1950s, and has undergone numerous projects to get rid of lead paint and asbestos down through the years.

Though the asbestos and lead paint removal projects have been successful, now they’re finding the original heating and air conditioning systems along with the plumbing, are becoming more difficult to maintain in the 60-year-old school, which is prompting the call for a new school, he said.

The big factor is the age of the buildings and that buildings just wear down,” Schmidt said.

On top of that, Aspen Elementary is costing the taxpayers extra money annually, he said. Since the 50s, construction materials that are more technologically advanced and cost effective have come along that are more cost effective  and Schmidt said he and the district want to take advantage of that too.

“It’s kind of like a person who has a kitchen that needs to be modernized,” Schmidt said. “The kitchen works, but if it were modernized it would be so much better because in the new design, you’d have state-of-the-art infrastructure for technology, as well as better insulating materials, such as that glazed glass that reflects the sun yet holds in heat in the winter.”

When it comes to technology infrastructure, what that comes down to at Aspen is electrical outlets.

According to Aspen’s principal, Kathryn Vandenkieboom, the classrooms just aren’t computer-friendly.

“When you walk into a classroom, one of the things that are most evident is the lack of electrical access,” she said. “I think that’s probably because the time in which it was built there were no personal computers.” More plugs would come in handy for the other modern tools they use for classroom learning in the 21st century as well, she said.

Not just electrical plugs, but Ethernet is in short supply as well. While the wireless Internet situation continues to improve, Vandenkieboom said it’s important that a majority of the desktop computers have direct Ethernet access to the Internet.

“It’s going to be absolutely imperative with testing,” she said. “State testing is moving in the direction of computerized testing and if all of our kids can’t be on a computer concurrently, then that’s going to really tie our hands. I think that better access to computer technology will come with a new building.”

The principal believes the school was built in 1951, and she thinks the boiler system was installed when the school was built. “If that boiler is not original, it’s no younger than 40 or more years,” Vandenkieboom said.

Vandenkieboom and Schmidt readily acknowledge there is a lot to like about the 61-year-old school as well; there are some things that are worth keeping. One aspect they like is the school’s main hall, an architectural aspect they’d both like to see incorporated in the school’s eventual redesign, if voters approve the ballot measure.

“When we started thinking about a new building, a lot of ideas were put on the table,” Vandenkieboom said. “We kept coming back to the fact that we loved seeing our kindergartners go up and down that hallway every day for years. The first grade teachers got to know them. The sixth grade teachers know them; that hallway is kind of our social network.”

Vandenkieboom also said parents will be glad to know they are going to be able to preserve the square footage of the classrooms. They will actually be bigger than a “modern” classroom. The state requires classrooms to be about 850-square feet, a typical Aspen classroom is about a thousand sq. feet, Vandenkieboom said. “We will be able to maintain the square footage through refurbishing, but we would have lost that if we had to start over completely,” she said.