Breathing new life into Los Alamos High School

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Construction is expected to be complete by October 2011

By Kirsten Laskey

It’s becoming clear that Los Alamos High School is showing its age. Things are looking worn out and run down. Plus, with conditions such as freezing hallways and inefficient use of space, resuscitating a building built in the 1950s and 1960s appears to be necessary.

Los Alamos Public Schools asked the community to pass a $40 million bond in January 2009 to breathe new life into several LAPS buildings, including the high school. The bond was passed and work is progressing on plans for the high school.

Herb McLean, construction administrator, said schematic plans have been submitted to the Public Schools Facilities Authority (PSFA) for approval this week. He said they should get a response from the state agency in a couple of weeks.

The PSFA, McLean said, is in charge of making sure schools that are built meet the organization’s standards for adequacy.

It’s a three-step process, he added. It begins with the education specifications for the schematic design. Then there is the schematic design phase. The final step is creating construction documents.

The district is currently in the schematic design phase. The schematic design phase was presented to the school board by fbt architects. LAPS hired fbt architects during the work session held last week at Mountain Elementary School.

The schematics showed that the A,B,C and D wings will be demolished. In their place, a three-level building will be constructed. The first level, McLean said, will have a commons area with a kitchen and a black box theater, which will also serve as a location for dance classes. Connected to the kitchen, he said, will be a Pro Student Culinary classroom. Past the culinary classroom will be a sewing classroom.

The second level will be designed as the main level. The administrative offices, counseling area, student activities offices and the nurse’s office will be located on this level.

The lobby on the main level will be connected to the Instructional Media Center. The lobby will be two stories high and will feature a bridge. On one floor, there will be classrooms for math instruction.

The third floor will be designated for social science classrooms.

Additionally, McLean said the south end of A wing will be designated for foreign language classes and a foreign language lab.

The design also provides some repair work to the outside on the Instructional Media Center, as well as some refurbishing in the interior of the school library.

The schematics call for a major remodel of the old cafeteria, as well. The design has the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps relocated from the Pueblo Complex to the former cafeteria. The remodel will also have two new classrooms that will be used while the wings are being demolished, in addition to a book depository.

Finally, two more science labs, one for physics and the other for special education science, will be added in E wing.

The creation of this schematic design began in September 2009 with an education specification process, which the state requires.

McLean said parents, teachers, staff members and community members looked at the whole campus and determined an education model, or a departmental model. Then, the committee started describing what the campus would look like in order to achieve that model.

“This whole process is really allowing us to enhance the departmental education model at the high school,” McLean said.

He added the community seems to agree that the schematics are a step in the right direction.  

“I believe the school community thinks they are going to get a good product and all of them are very positive with what is going to happen,” McLean said.

After meeting with the PSFA several times, he has gotten a similar impression from the state agency, he said.

Superintendent Gene Schmidt also seems to be pleased with the plans. “The (current) building is old and has served its purpose and it is time to move on to a more modern building,” he said.

Schmidt explained that showing the community plans for a remodeled and newly constructed high school proves that education is important.

In the new school, Schmidt said, people are “going to find the learning environment much improved because it’s brighter, warmer, physically attractive and (will) generate more school pride.”

He added that the flexible use of the classrooms will create new learning dynamics. “I think the new building creates new teaching opportunities that will be exciting,” Schmidt said.

While replacing a building that has a long history in Los Alamos is a “huge paradigm shift in how we have housed and educated our children,” Schmidt said it is still “an exciting time.”

When the project is completed — which is expected to be in October 2011 — the long- term reward will be worth the effort, he said.

The community will be able to view the design and give their input at

6 p.m. April 22 at the high school.