Properties Generate Revenue for District

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Education: Funds preserve programs, offer alternatives

By Tris DeRoma

Entrepreneurs looking for the ideal place to locate their business, need to look no further than the Los Alamos Public Schools. Some might not know the LAPS has a number of properties around town that are suitable for residents who might be looking to open a business.

Currently the Los Alamos Public School District has at least two properties for lease, The “L” section of a building at 3540 Orange St. and two suites, “S” and “T” at 2101 Trinity Dr. And though they aren’t giving the properties away for free, the leases can be pretty reasonable. According to the district’s assets manager, Joan Ahlers, the process is pretty straightforward.

“If somebody wants to lease from the school district, whether it’s vacant land or actual office space, they come through my office,” she said. “We then do a needs analysis and find out what may work for them.”

After a price is negotiated, a three-step approval process then begins. First, the lease has to be approved by either the Public Education Department or the State Board of Finance. From there, the school board then approves the lease, before it moves on to planning and zoning at the county.

According to LAPS Superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt, district personnel is probably more motivated to help you than a realtor is.

“Every day a property goes without a lease is a lost day of revenue for the school,” Schmidt said. So we’re really interested in working with the county and the communities on where there might be an appropriate location for their business.”

Unlike other forms of revenue the school has access to, such as bonds, operational dollars etc., LAPS can use the funds it takes in (about $2.3 million a year) for anything it wants. “This detail has really helped the schools during a weak economy,” Ahlers said.

“We can take some of it and put it into our operational budget, which is what we currently do.”
Schmidt said the extra funds came in handy during the downturn of ’08 and ’09, where the district was able to use the money to keep their art and music teachers employed.

“These are real dollars that we have the flexibility to use in an area or a program that we feel is in the greatest need,” he said. “This has allowed us to maintain a certain level of programming at a time when the state has been slowly cutting back on funding support to our schools.”

John Wolfe, LAPS’ chief financial officer, said they also have plans just in case their biggest lease holder, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, decides to reduce its usage of leased space in the event the economy and federal budget issues keep getting worse.

“We’ve had extensive discussions with the school board about this,” Wolfe said, adding that they’ve also had extensive talks with LANL about the issue, too.

Wolfe said during the last renegotiation of LANL’s five-year leases, they had wording put in that requires LANL to give LAPS six months notice if they had to vacate a property for any reason, plus, Wolfe said, they also have a backup plan on top of that.

“If we did not have the facilities leased there is sufficient revenue that we have saved that would carry us for a number of years,” said Wolfe. “So even if we did get that six-month notice that they were going to pull back, there would be time to work, organize and create plans that made sense.”

Currently, all of LAPS’ properties are 80 percent leased, with no debt on the buildings themselves. Everything is bought and paid for, Ahlers said, adding that besides helping to keep vital school programs running, some of the money is also used to make Americans with Disabilities Act improvements to the buildings and do further upkeep.

“That way, we don’t have to take money from programs or bonding that directly impacts our students,” she said.