Project endures 'Tuff' battle

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By Tris DeRoma

A construction contractor in charge of renovating the Los Alamos Middle School is currently wrapping up dealing with an 11-foot layer of “tuff” (pronounced “toof”) that was not apparent in preliminary drilling surveys.

In clearing ground for a building at the site, the contractor McCarthy Construction, came across a layer of pumice-like material, wrecking a few drill bits as well as racking up a tab of roughly $300,000 to take it out.

“We have the best intentions when we start into a project; then there are unknowns,” said Bob Gorrell, director of New Mexico’s Public School Finance Authority. “This is one that is really tough, because it’s expensive.”

Gorrell gave the news to the Los Alamos Board of Education during a recent progress report on the matter. The PSFA partners with school districts in funding and managing school construction projects.

“There may have been less expensive ways to excavate it in my opinion, like blasting, because that is what you do with a material like that when you’re trying to cut costs,” Gorrell said. “But that probably would not have worked in that neighborhood,” he said.

Fortunately, the PSFA is going to assume most of those costs, according to Gorrell.

“Let me just clearly say that with the state as partners, we look at this as an unexpected condition, Gorrell. said “So the state will be participating in this cost … it’s just part of the project.”

Another outcome is the board decided to officially hire local construction company Paul Parker Construction to be mediators between the board and McCarthy if any other unexpected issues regarding rock come up.

When the issue arose, owner Paul Parker said he wanted to be the third-party consultant at no charge.

“The Parkers have been very generous,” District Financial Officer John Wolfe said. “They indicated they would do this for us at no cost. ... He said it was his way of giving back to the schools for all the school district has done for his family, his kids and now his grandkids.”

However, LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt, as well as board member Melanie McKinley, recommended that an official contract be drawn up between Parker and the school district.

“I think it best that everything be above board,” McKinley said.

Schmidt said these types of hires are common in the course of a school project.

“The important thing here is this not an adversarial type relationship,” Schmidt said. “You simply bring in a consultant in case there is a question. “It may be that a consultant isn’t needed if the school and the contractor can agree on what is the cost and value of the rock removal. It’s only needed when there’s a disagreement on what that might be.”