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Schools receive $300,000 solar grant

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By Kirsten Laskey

As Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Gene Schmidt said, “these are exciting times for Los Alamos.” During the regular school board Tuesday night, a few high octane pieces of news were shared with the board.

Schmidt told the board that the school district has earned a $300,000 grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment State Energy Act to construct a 50-kilowatt photovoltaic solar electric array system near Los Alamos Middle School.

Now that the money has been officially awarded, the clock is ticking to get the project completed.

Schmidt said that the deadline for the array is Dec. 31. Time is short, but a strategy is in place to meet the deadline, he said.

On July 19, a committee will meet with three contractors, which were among eight companies the state selected for the program, to choose which one will build the array.

The project has also been discussed with county officials for Planning and Zoning needs.  

The grant will cover all the costs, Schmidt said, so no funds from the district will be used.

In other financial issues, the school district approved the bond sale resolution for the Los Alamos High School construction project.

Nine bids were submitted, but Robert W. Baird and Co. was selected to purchase a

$20 million bond.

The interest rate will be 2.51 percent, which was close to the other two top bids, which came in with rates of 2.52 percent and 2.53 percent. The premium will be about 1 percent and the net cost to taxpayers $23,300,000.

With the interest rates so close, Kevin Powers of RBC Capital Investment in Albuquerque, said: “It just really boiled down to who would sharpen their pencils the most.”

Bids for the bond were taken Tuesday.

Powers said Tuesday was chosen as the sale date because the markets were relatively good.

Wednesday, Director of Business Services John Wolfe concurred. He said the cash flow was needed for the construction to move ahead and to pay for costs once contractors begin sending in invoices.

In January, Los Alamos voters approved a $40 million bond to pay for renovation of the high school.

Another $10 million bond will go up for sale next year for the Los Alamos Middle School.  

The high school construction project is progressing well, McLean said. C and D wings have been demolished and asbestos work is being conducted on A and B wing.

The critical items, McLean said, are finishing the cafeteria, getting necessary materials for lights and getting a temporary occupancy permit.

Additionally, he said, portable classrooms should be arriving soon. Nine portables will come from Cuba, N.M., he said.

McLean is working with Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman to determine a path to get the portables through the Diamond Drive construction zone and into the school.

By Aug. 6, the portables should be installed and the renovation work in the administrative offices should be completed, architects from FBT said. They said they will share final budget numbers during the July 26 board meeting.

“We’re getting really close and it’s getting really exciting,” the architects said.

Board member Kevin Honnell asked McLean how he thought the project was going compared to the schedule.

McLean answered, “We’re right on.” Construction will start in earnest at the end of August.

A source of frustration, however, is the state’s refusal to issue a permit to smash the existing concrete. “We’re doing the best we can with what they’re giving us,” McLean said.

For more information and photos of the project, visit the LAPS Web site, which is www.laschools.net.