School board tackles construction concerns

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LAPS > Board members discuss possible dilemma involving middle school and Aspen

By Tris DeRoma

While everyone else is thinking thoughts of summer vacation this time of year, the thoughts of the Los Alamos Board of Education have already moved on to the next school year.


Specifically, Aug 14, the day most students go back to school.

The board’s session was to address concerns surrounding the final construction phases at the middle school and the beginning phases of construction at Aspen Elementary.

The chief concern among board members was making sure both middle school students and elementary students had a place to go when their schools open next year. That involved a lengthy discussion on the dilemma of moving the campus of portable classrooms that the middle school students have called home for the last two years to see service at Aspen.

Move them too soon, when construction at the middle school isn’t completed, middle school students won’t have a place to go in August. Move them too late, neither will the Aspen Elementary students.

Mike Horn, McCarthy Construction’s project manager in charge of the middle school project, told board officials construction should be completed by Aug. 8 or 9 — barring any difficulties. One of the main difficulties McCarthy has encountered is rock, which has caused the company to revamp its date of completion several times. Rock has made it difficult for the company to dig trenches and other foundation work. At the meeting, one of Horn’s associates indicated that they’ve again encountered rock.

The Aug. 8-9 date seems to be what McCarthy, the school board and indeed the district, seems to betting everything on.

“...If something untoward happens and we end up in the middle of September, I can’t tell you the justified public criticism of this decision,” Board President Jim Hall told Horn and McCarthy Project Director Lee O’Connell.

“If I could speak on behalf of the team, I’d like to say we are confident that we can maintain our schedule, but it’s another thing to predict the unpredictable,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell also added that McCarthy wouldn’t risk so much if they didn’t have a backup plan.

“If something were to happen between now and then we would need to have a backup plan,” he told the board. “Our recommendation is to leave the temporary campus as is, pulling two or three trailers. It minimizes the risk for everybody; it gives us a chance to get our summer work done and we will know by the end of June or July if that date is going to happen.

“We do great work, and we’re timely about it, but I understand the risk. So our recommendation is to leave the temporary campus in place and if and when we do make that date, we can have a very positive regroup meeting.”

The plan also called for McCarthy to move at least one portable classroom to Aspen, two will be demolished (it was determined they wouldn’t survive the move) and two more moved around the site. This would make room for

McCarthy to do some site work it wasn’t able to do with those particular portables in place.

This phase of the move is due to happen in early June, according to McCarthy officials. However, due to site logistics, utilities to the new gym and the old part of the school can only be connected after the students are in the new building, and the two portables that are to remain on site are moved to a new location. Construction officials at the meeting said that hooking up the connections to these buildings would take about 30 days.

It was also confirmed that Aspen will be ready to receive the portables from the Middle School by June 15.

Besides the one portable classroom, the district is due to move in four other portable classrooms from Clovis sometime this summer.

Up until a few weeks ago, the plan was to move all the portables off the middle school campus by this June, leaving McCarthy no choice but to finish by Aug. 9.

Board member David Foster then posed the question to McCarthy officials that with the June planned scrubbed in favor of this new plan, what is their incentive to finish by Aug. 9.

“What is the incentive to McCarthy to hit that 8/9 plan? It seems it doesn’t matter if it’s in August September or October... What is your incentive to keep focused,” Foster said.

“As far as McCarthy is concerned, if we run long, it costs McCarthy,” O’Connell said. “…There is no contractual obligation to get us there, but it’s been our every intention to finish this job strong and to get the kids into the classrooms.”

O’Connell said they’ve added staff and additional resources to make sure they make the August date.

Officials involved in creating the new plan estimated that the entire move will cost less than $200,000, adding that the details of the newly-minted plans are still being worked out.

Hall seemed satisfied with the results of the meeting.

“This is the best outcome I could possibly have imagined,” he said to the board and the audience.

“I thought maybe we were going to have to get tough and adversarial, but it looks like people have put their minds together and arrived at the best possible solution.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt felt the same way.

“I’ve been briefed several times during the course of the project and I’d like to say to all of the parties, nicely done in bringing a calm to this conversation,” he said.

“I think the board and the administration is looking for a quality place for kids to receive their education.”