School Board tackles LAMS gas line issue

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Construction: Officials need a fix before cold weather sets in

By Tris DeRoma

The Los Alamos School Board voted Thursday to have a construction firm tear up all the old sections of a gas line currently underneath the middle school campus.

The gas line, which is about 1,000-feet long and runs from the northern end of the middle school campus to the southern end, had been threatening the $18 million construction project since Monday when construction crews accidentally ruptured the line. Though no gas has run through the line since Monday, air pressure tests on the line have revealed multiple leaks.

“It was very easy to build consensus on this,” Los Alamos Public Schools Board President Kevin Honnell said. “When you find something that’s already a problem and it’s only going to get worse over time, now is the time to fix it. After all, you’re building an entirely new school.”

Board member Melanie McKinley, who represents White Rock, said it just makes sense to her.

“I was confused as to why they didn’t replace this entire aging infrastructure when they first started construction,” McKinley said. “To me, it seemed an easy decision to make. When you’re in there doing all this work, you replace all of it.”

It’s estimated the cost to replace all the existing lines will be about $20,000.

While the order seemed relatively straightforward, key sections of the old pipe are located right in the middle of the temporary campus and the other section is located right under the proposed bus loop in the southern end of the campus.

As for the line underneath the proposed bus loop, the board requested that McCarthy, the construction firm in charge, take care of that before any construction begins on the bus loop. That way, the school system won’t have to pay twice for paving and curbing.

The motion came out as a request to replace all the old lines at some point in the project; replace the gas line underneath the bus loop as soon as possible; and continue investigating where other leaks are occurring. The motion passed unanimously.

The board then made an additional motion to see what sort of options are available to do the work in a timely manner, without disrupting student life. The board also expressed concern that at least, work in the temporary campus area has to be done before the cold weather sets in. Construction officials at the meeting advised the board that that section of line provides heat to the temporary campus, as well as hot water and heat to the school’s cooking facilities.

Since Monday, lunch has been transported to campus from elsewhere. It was also noted that the middle school cafeteria supplies hot food to the surrounding elementary schools.

A variety of options were discussed, including running a smaller line inside the bigger one as a temporary solution to get the students through the winter. Another temporary solution was to bypass the old line connecting to the temporary campus. The bypass would be run over an adjoining building and then be reconnected into a new section of line on the other side.

The second motion came out as: if a leak is found in the temporary campus section, that it be replaced over a three-day weekend. If that was not an option, then see about sleeving a pipe through the old one as a temporary solution or, just abandoning the old section and running the bypass up and over an adjoining building and rejoining it on the other side near the bus loop. If there aren’t any leaks in the temporary section, then the last option was sleeving the entire line until the line could be replaced.

But unlike the first motion, this one was not unanimous. Four voted for the motion while Honnell voted against it.

“All of us agreed with those plans. I was just not comfortable saying, ‘go off and do one of those things and anything else you think of … cost and schedule is not a concern of ours.’ I was not comfortable with simply writing a blank check.”

McKinley said she voted for the measure because she thinks the board already had safeguards in place to protect against overspending, referring to construction manager David Wharram, whose firm, Gerald Martin Construction Management, was hired by the board to monitor spending.

“We hired David Wharram to watch out for the district’s best interests in projects like this,” McKinley said. “We’re paying him a good salary, he’s very intelligent, he knows how the board feels so I’m very comfortable with him after this meeting, going forth and leading us in the right direction.”

LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt said his job will be to communicate with Wharram and McCarthy, and make sure they understand the board’s request.

“What we will be doing next is strategizing how we will explain to McCarthy what it is that we want,” Schmidt said. “My guess is they are working on a plan right now as well as some other options.”

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