Pricey turf project gets reluctant nod

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LAPS: Board members approve an extra $150k for rubberized track coating

By Jennifer Garcia

It was a classic case of “I told you so” at Tuesday night’s Los Alamos Board of Education meeting.


The promise of a complete new turf project at Los Alamos Middle School hung in the balance as representatives from Centennial Contractors Enterprises, Inc. made an announcement that surprised some board members.

Lisa Cooley, senior manager of strategic development, dropped a bombshell when she said that the field project at the middle school could be completed within the original $1.5 million range, but that did not include a rubberized coating on the track. Instead, the track would have to be asphalt with striping.

Cooley’s announcement did not sit well with board members, who all agreed that they were told the project could be completed (including a rubberized coating) for a guaranteed maximum price of $1.5 million. In fact, at the Jan. 10 school board meeting, former board member Joan Ahlers cautioned the board about proceeding with the project so quickly.

“I get an uneasy feeling we’re not very organized and we don’t know what we’re going to get,” she said. “We don’t know if $1.5 million is enough. It doesn’t give me a very high level of comfort. Slow it down, do some planning. Planning doesn’t cost anything.”

At that time, Board Vice President Kevin Honnell voted against proceeding with the project. Board President Melanie McKinley also said that she did not support option one, which carried a completion date of 2012 and “necessitates the use of the district’s Job Order Contractor.” Despite her reservations, McKinley voted with the board because there were only four members at that meeting and she did not want to have an unbalanced vote.

As it turned out, Ahlers’ cautionary words rang true.

Cooley told board members that the rubberized coating would cost an additional $150,000. Honnell wanted to know what quality of track the district would be getting for that amount.

“It’s the same quality, the same manufacturer (as the high school track), but it would have a shorter nap,” Cooley said.  

The term “nap” is commonly used on sewing patterns and instructions and it affects the amount of yardage that is needed.

LAPS Athletic Director Vicki Nelms supported the project, despite the additional cost.

“It allows us to get a good quality field at a little less cost,” she said of the shortened nap.
McKinley asked Nelms if she had a solution to the cost problem. Nelms said that she had some extra funds that she could move around to pay the additional $150,000. Those funds were allocated for work on the gym floor at the high school, but Nelms said the project could not be done this year and she will have money “down the road” that she would use to take care of the gym project.

“It’s old money. It’s already there,” she said of the funds.

Although Nelms seemed certain that she had a solution, Honnell was not satisfied with the outcome. He said his colleagues asked two or three times whether the project could be done for $1.5 million and each time, they were assured that it could be.

“But here we are with an overrun, not going out for bid,” he said. “We promised in the referendum that we’d build this. It just doesn’t make sense to spend $1.5 million and not finish the job.” He compared the project to buying a new Cadillac and not putting paint on it.

After further discussion, McKinley said she would support spending the additional $150,000 as long as she could get a promise from Centennial, that there would be no delays in the project.

John Emershaw, project manager/general manager for Centennial said they would do whatever it takes to complete the project by Aug. 10.

“We’ll work long hours, we’ll work weekends,” he assured the board.

Judy Bjarke McKenzie made the motion to proceed with the project, including the additional cost. The motion passed 5-0.