Sprinkler system update delays Duane Smith Auditorium construction

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By Bennett Horne

A detour in construction brought on by a sprinkler system update isn’t dampening the plan of a March 23 finish to the work being done at Duane A. Smith Auditorium on the campus of Los Alamos High School.

That was the update given by Herb McLean, coordinator of Bond and Construction for the Los Alamos School District, and Lisa Montoya, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, during this month’s Los Alamos School Board meeting.

The original plan called for construction, which began in July of last year, to push on with the sprinkler system being updated this summer after the school year was over.

“At the very beginning we were pushed to include this in the project and we knew it would impact the project’s schedule and cost,” said McLean. “I talked (the fire marshal) into letting us do the project as designed and then let us do the sprinklers over the summer, so it wouldn’t impact the project.”

But when the plans reached the state level McLean was informed the new sprinkler system would have to be installed first before a permit would be issued.

“So we went ahead and got it designed and put in, which added about six weeks to the total project,” McLean said.

One big issue with regard to the sprinkler system is the amount of wood that exists above the ceiling of the auditorium.

“One of the things that really concerned the fire marshal was all the wood up there,” McLean said. “With all the catwalks up there you’re able to get to every light in the ceiling. But all those catwalks are 50-year-old wood and very tinder dry. These days we build a non-combustible building. We don’t have any wood in the building. We use all steel studs and fire-rated sheet rock.”

Montoya said the issues surrounding the sprinkler system forced the district to move events scheduled for the auditorium as a safety measure.

One of those events was a scheduled performance of Guys and Dolls by the Los Alamos Light Opera. 

“We met with LALO and let them know because of concerns we have with public safety, our students’ safety and the workers’ safety that we’re shutting (the auditorium) down,” said Montoya. “We have spent the last two weeks trying to push through the fire suppression system, to get the fire alarm systems working in the lobby and in the stage area.”

LALO’s production has been moved to the Crossroads Bible Church and is scheduled for March 22-24.

As for the rest of the auditorium work, McLean said the work is “coming along nicely,” adding, “It was wrapped up in plastic for several weeks while we were doing stucco on it and when you do that it has to be kept at 40 degrees. So we were able to get all that done.”

McLean said while steel was hard to get in December and January, the company doing the work, Mick Rich Construction, now has the steel it needed and has been “going like gangbusters” ever since.

“The first mud coat on the stucco has been finished,” McLean added. “They’re moving forward and have started sheet rocking.”

McLean also said the bathrooms are “pretty much complete” and “ready to go live” and that the lobby is getting ready for concrete.

And for now it’s full steam ahead for the project as it heads to the March finish line.

“No one will be allowed in DSA until March 23, until we’re completely operational,” said Montoya. “There have been several delays, but I think we’re doing it right. We’re taking our time and making sure the work’s being done and that it’s up to code.”