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Wharram got much done at LAPS

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By Tris DeRoma

At a regular school board meeting in February, the members of the old school board, which included Judy Bjarke-McKenzie, Kevin Honnell and Nan Holmes, as well as current members Matt Williams and Jim Hall said goodbye to an old friend.
Those former members took part in one last official act, congratulating one of their unsung heroes off to other challenges.
David Wharram, the construction manager the board hired several years ago through Gerald Martin Ltd. to oversee over $40 million in construction on three schools, was officially dismissed from his role as construction manager.
Even though it was his job, board members at the meeting said they admired how Wharram through his years of school rebuilds unflinchingly delivered the good, the bad, and the ugly with his often lengthy updates of each construction project.
Whether it was about unexpected financial windfalls, missed deadlines, or accidents, Wharram was known for treating each report with a “just the facts” type of attitude which allowed the board to make the informed decisions it had to make to keep things on track without being distracted by a lot of drama.
Board members said Wharram’s no-nonsense style was also crucial to the school board since the projects were primarily funded by taxpayer money, as well as approved by taxpayers through ballot.
“...You’ve guided us, through the help of district staff, through three large construction projects, with some big ups, and some big downs,” said then board member Kevin Honnell. “Your professionalism, your dedication, your diplomacy, as well as your expertise has just shined through. It’s returned hundreds of thousands, if not about a million of dollars to our school district… Our schools are of higher quality and more efficiently built because of your presence here. Thank you sincerely. It’s a legacy that’s going to last here at least 40, 50 years.”
Before Wharram left, however, board member Jim Hall asked Wharram if he could prepare a document that that could help the board, as well as the district, make the process of managing future construction projects run smoother.
Wharram said there already such a document, a document that explains the district’s particular specifications it needs built into every school.
“That particular document would be handed to the architect or the construction company,” he said.
“It would say ‘these are our requirements for our buildings. You design the school as you wish, but we require that these aspects be taken care of.’ That way, we can improve on each each school as we build better.”
Wharram was first brought on board in 2010 to oversee the rebuild of Los Alamos High School. He then went onto manage rebuilding of Los Alamos Middle School.
His last project was Aspen Elementary School, which was completed late last year.
After the meeting, Wharram explained to the Los Alamos Monitor the secret to his success, which was always keeping in mind why he was hired in the first place.
“It’s the value-for-money concept,” Wharram said. “I’m hired to see things, to stop wastage by a contractor, so you can get more dollars back into a school budget. That’s what we’re able to do. Even though these projects cost a lot of money, we’re not busting budgets. It’s great to have a building, but really we’re here to educate everyone. That’s where we want to see the money going. That’s my opinion, and that’s the way I work.”
Construction for the three schools was mainly funded through $40 million in construction bonds, of which Los Alamos residents had to approve by ballot for each school.
The district is currently gearing up for another bond initiative in 2017, but first has to decide. Candidates for reconstruction include Piñon Elementary, Chamisa Elementary and Barranca Mesa Elementary.