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Schools view 20 years out

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By Carol A. Clark

Members of the Los Alamos School Board’s Facilities Strategic Planning Committee presented its findings on a 20-year Facilities Renewal Plan during Thursday’s school board work session at Chamisa Elementary School. The school board last year approved the need for long-term strategic planning to make best use of available funds and provide a blueprint for future general obligation bonding programs. It chartered the Strategic Planning Committee to investigate the situation and report back with their findings.Five appointees comprise the Strategic Planning Committee. Grant Stewart and Larry Goen from facilities engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory, former school board member/county councilor Morrie Pongratz, local civil engineer and licensed general contractor Al Mollenback, and Stan Primak, a former high school teacher and local developer/homebuilder have worked for months on the 20-year plan.Several key district personnel also served on the committee: Superintendent James Anderson, LAPS Business Manager John Wolfe, facilities coordinator Tom Littleton, contract administrator Herb McLean, and school board members Joan Ahlers and Steve Girrens.“I want to express my sincerest thanks to our five appointees,” Girrens said during an interview Tuesday. “The committee met numerous times since their formation several months ago. Many of their meetings were three- and four-hour sessions. They’ve made outstanding contributions to the schools and we all owe them our gratitude.”Highlights from Thursday’s presentation include a background on successive facilities master plans and bond issues beginning in 1998. The presentation also included a review of current school building conditions throughout the district, a look at available funding options, and recommendations for 20 years of building and maintenance projects.The committee recommended board consideration of a new bond program to maximize the district’s bonding capacity by conducting a bond election of $40 million in February 2009.It also recommended continuing four-year bond cycles of $20 million each, stretching out to 2028.“The committee realizes the district cannot afford to build a new high school or middle school,” Girrens said, “or even an elementary school while keeping up with needed protective maintenance at the schools, but with this program, we could add decades of useful life to all our schools.”The costs to replace LAPS schools as estimated by the committee include the following amounts:• New high school – $100-120 million;• new middle school – $40-60 million; and• new elementary school – $15-20 million.“In the 20-year renewal program proposed, every school in the district would gain from major improvements that would benefit educational programs while maintaining a safe environment for our students,” Girrens said.Prominent projects recommended by the committee include B, C, and D wing replacement at Los Alamos High School, a two- or three-story classroom building, and refurbishing the gymnasium and auditorium. Also, the committee recommended building a classroom wing to replace portables at Los Alamos Middle School and adding more cafeteria space, which would help add 30 minutes of daily class time by reducing lunch periods from four to two, according to committee findings. Another recommended project is to replace Aspen Elementary School’s main classroom.The committee also recommended many smaller facility sustainment projects in addition to increased funding for major protective maintenance projects across the district.Girrens presented a letter on behalf of the school board at Tuesday evening’s Los Alamos County Council meeting informing council that the board intends to go forward in 2009 with a G.O. bond. “We would like to collaborate with the county and explore creative ways to finance this effort,” Girrens said. “Further, we have directed LAPS staff to work with appropriate county staff to this end.”In upcoming meetings, the school board will consider its next steps including forming a Bond Advisory Committee, made up of community members, district employees and professionals, to promote the bond issue and help ensure the community is informed of each step along the way.