Immediate work required at LAHS, Aspen

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By Gabriel Vasquez

Critical infrastructure work needs to be completed at area schools, and it needs to be done as quickly as possible.

That was the central message delivered by Steve Girrens, president, LAPS Board of Education, to attendees at the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce’s monthly business breakfast today.

“It’s time now that we really have to do something a lot more significant to keep our schools’ infrastructures viable to support our education,” Girrens said. “The schools are the crown jewel of our future.”

In April, the LAPS board appointed a special bond committee comprised of local engineers and construction specialists to evaluate the status of the board’s recapitalization projects. The group worked for 10 months to validate the work that current architectural research consultants were doing, who have been working for LAPS since 1998.

The bond committee concluded that critical infrastructure work had to be performed at several local schools, with the most immediate changes being required at Los Alamos High School and Aspen Elementary.

“As a result of a walk-through evaluation from the local committee, the programs and projects started to come together,” Girrens said.

The first project scheduled in what the LAPS board calls the “20-Year Facilities Renewal Plan,” is the replacement of the B-D wings at LAHS, and site work to repair worn infrastructure at Griffith Gym.

“The issue with the gym is that it’s a big box with a lot of wind-face exposure. There’s tile that is sheared off underneath the concrete stairways,” Girrens said.

Girrens also mentioned that the transportable classrooms acquired by LAPS years ago were meant to be temporary solutions to expand classroom space, but over time they became permanent fixtures – another issue scheduled to be resolved in the 20-year plan.

At Aspen Elementary, there are several problems that stem from the age and space limitations of the building.

“In some places, you can put your finger through the wall,” Girrens said.

Adding classrooms, storage for the music department, increased space for physical education activities and increased cafeteria space are top priorities for Aspen.

“It’s taking us four periods to feed the kids there,” Girrens said. “If we add some space to the cafeteria, we can feed them in two periods. That gives us 20 minutes more a day per kid to increase educational time.”

The renovations outlined in the plan are scheduled for four-year cycles, with the cost of the first cycle scheduled for $40 million.

“You can’t learn when there’s no heat in the classroom,” said Nikki Harnish, community coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters. “There’s a direct tie-in to the kids. It’s not a beautification project.”

LAPS Superintendent Jim Anderson said the biggest challenge of the project would be working in conjunction with county council, because other projects that are currently underway such as the Trinity Development project and the Airport Basin site are also vying for funds – but he is confident in their support for the project.

“I think it’s pretty amazing that we are able to have that conversation with the county council,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in a lot of places. I like it that we can have that kind of relationship and that kind of discussion.”

The LAPS board is scheduled to vote on a draft produced by a bond attorney during their meeting Tuesday, which would get the wheels turning on having a mail-out ballot to Los Alamos residents that could possibly come in January 2009.

“If we can get the vote out to the people and they return the ballots, we are pretty confident that we can be successful.” Anderson said. “From now on the bond committee will be mostly about education and marketing. We’re going to start letting people know that this is coming up.”