School board grapples with construction uncertainty

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By Tris DeRoma

Despite the best assurances from McCarthy Construction, the Los Alamos School Board is still not ready to commit to moving the portable classrooms or even some of them until McCarthy presents a solid contingency plan May 9 on what it’s going to do if the Los Alamos Middle School isn’t ready by Aug. 9

“We updated the schedule last week and we showed an Aug. 9 completion date,” said Mike Horn, McCarthy’s project manager for the middle school. He also said they have some extra days left in the schedule, and the only problem that might come up is that there could be a problem concerning paperwork with one of the subcontractors in charge of stucco. 

“It looks like they are going to be able to provide worker’s comp. That being said, I don’t have a certificate in hand yet. That’s our biggest hurdle,” Horn said.

But despite the board’s confidence in McCarthy to get the middle school done by Aug. 9, the board still held off voting on moving the 15 to 16 portables from the middle school to Aspen Elementary, which is scheduled to begin work this summer. Since, according to school district officials, it costs an average of $6,000 to move just one portable, the board wanted to make sure they were going to have to move them once. The big concern, however, was leaving middle school students and staff without classrooms when it came time to go back to the middle school in the fall.

“...The most conservative approach is to make the assumption that something will happen and we will have to leave the portables in place at the middle school,” said School Board President Jim Hall. “That guarantees students have a place to go, regardless of what happens. If we leave the portables in place and McCarthy doesn’t finish the middle school, the students will have a place to go, and the Aspen students will have a place to go. The downside of that is, if McCarthy does finish on time, then we have a bunch of empty portables sitting at the middle school until we can move them (to Aspen).”

Adding to the pressure was the question of whether or not the middle school staff should move out of the portables or stay put.

“If you’ve ever packed up your house, you know you didn’t do it in two weeks, it took you several months,” said Middle School Principal Rex Kilburn to the board.

In the end, Hall and the rest of the board voted to keep tabs on the situation, and have a meeting before the May 9 board meeting to make a decision, if possible. According to Hall, a decision to move the portables would be contingent on McCarthy providing a “95 percent certainty” that they will finish work at LAMS by Aug. 9, and they also must provide a contingency plan that includes the exact number of days until the project will be finished. 

To further protect district assets and to make sure there would be no disruptions when it comes time for school to start up again in the fall, (Aug. 14,) the board voted earlier to start building and installing utilities and water hookups at Aspen this May. (See the April 4 issue of the Los Alamos Monitor for details.

In the meantime Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt said he will meet with the staffs of both schools to come up with a moving plan that would satisfy everyone.