LAMS gets go-ahead for new turf

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LAPS: Board blusters through decision on track and field rehab

By Jennifer Garcia

The Los Alamos Board of Education continued to grapple with the Los Alamos Middle School turf project during Tuesday night’s board meeting.

Whether the project would be done was never in question; it was a matter of when it would get underway.

During the Dec. 20 board meeting, members from the Middle School Track and Field Committee stressed the importance of the project, citing examples of numerous injuries to students.

The committee is composed of LAMS football Coach Daren Jones; Athletic Director Vicki Nelms; LAMS Principal Rex Kilburn; Purchasing Manager June Gladney; Bond and Construction Coordinator Herb McLean; Chief Financial Officer John Wolfe and LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt. All but Kilburn also served on the Sullivan Field Turf Committee.

At the December meeting, Jones, along with other coaches, told the board that the project needed to be started as soon as possible, but Board President Melanie McKinley had reservations about starting the project while construction at the school is still in progress. She was concerned about the new field being damaged as a result of the ongoing construction project. She wanted a guarantee that any damages to the new field would be fixed. At that time, Kilburn said he put his faith “in these people that they’ll do what they say they’ll do.”

In January 2010, voters approved a referendum that funded the project at $1.5 million, with a completion date of 2012. The Track and Field Committee has met several times since Sept. 7, 2011.

There were two procurement options presented to the board Tuesday. The first one had a completion date of 2012, and “necessitates the use of the district’s Job Order Contractor. Under this option, Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, through their Cooperative Educational Services contract, would coordinate both the middle school construction and the track/field project.”

The pros associated with completing the project this year include: presenting a timeline that meets the goal of having the project completed by the start of the 2012-2013 school year without interfering with the construction of the new middle school building; completing the project in 2012 vs. 2013/2014 gives the physical education classes, the athletic program at LAMS and the community a safer surface to play and run on; eliminates the need to identify a funding source to make temporary repairs to the field; eliminates problems they have in obtaining water for the field; and gives students and athletes something to enjoy and be proud of during the  2012-2013 school year while their campus is disrupted by construction.

The second option carries a completion date of 2013 or 2014 and “offers the choice of using a JOC contractor or the Qualification Based Request for Proposals.” The option of using CES contracts would still be available to the district. The pros of completing the project on this timeline include time to review the scope of the project; it gives planners more time to consider the lay down area of contractor coordination as part of the overall middle school site work; it allows the district the choice of either the JOC or the use of Qualifications Based Request for Proposal process; and it gives the Track and Field Committee an opportunity to study the impact of play on Sullivan Field.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, a handful of coaches turned out in support of starting the project this school year, again citing the risk of injury to students and athletes that use the grounds.

Board Vice President Kevin Honnell wanted to know how much it would cost to repair the field for now, if they decided to go with option two. Nelms said she didn’t have an exact figure. “To get us by for the next couple of years, probably $10,000,” she said. “I don’t know if we have the maintenance staff for that.” She also said it would cost approximately $15,000 to reseed the field.

Former Board Member Joan Ahlers attended the meeting and was critical of the board’s approach to the process. “I get an uneasy feeling we’re not very organized and we don’t know what we’re going to get,” she said. “We don’t know if $1.5 million is enough. It doesn’t give me a very high level of comfort. Slow it down, do some planning. Planning doesn’t cost anything.”

Despite Ahlers’ concerns, Jones was still convinced that option one was the best choice. “We’re ready to go. We’re waiting for the go ahead. Let’s get it on,” he said.

The conversation became heated when LAHS baseball Coach and Los Alamos County Fire Department Captain Michael Gill added his comments. “From a humane standpoint, it’s a no-brainer,” he said of the options. “Injuries due to field conditions is not acceptable.” He said he, as well as numerous family members played on the field at LAMS and told the board that as a member of the LAFD, he had also responded to calls in which students had sustained injuries on the field.

Honnell became visibly irritated and asked why the issue was just recently brought to the attention of the board. Jones responded that he had taken the issue up his chain of command and ended up writing a letter to Schmidt, when no action was taken by his supervisors.

“I feel responsible. I followed the chain of command. I wrote a letter to Dr. Schmidt about the condition of the field. I felt like it wasn’t well received. Like I went over people’s heads. I didn’t go over anyone’s head,” he said.

Following further conversation, McKinley said, “I feel the fiscally responsible thing to do is go out to bid.”

She did not support option one, but because there were only four board members at the meeting (Judith Bjarke-McKenzie was absent), she did not want to have an unbalanced board and voted for option one with Dawn Venhaus and David Foster. Honnell voted against it and the motion passed 3-1.