The North Mesa Housing Project From A Different Perspective

Dear Chairwoman Ben-Naim, members of the School Board, and Dr. Steinhaus,

I am writing to address the issue of the possible MOA between LAPS and Los Alamos County on the issue of the LAPS land on North Mesa.  I know you are aware of the many concerns that have been raised regarding safety, traffic, infrastructure, and the loss of more open space.  I would like to address this from a different perspective.

This is the last large parcel of vacant school land.  The Pinon Trails property in White Rock was sold and developed with minimal benefit to LAPS, and did nothing to alleviate the need for affordable housing.  That same property disposal model should not be considered for any more LAPS land. The North Mesa parcel should be reserved for a possible future campus as the district grows, as a spot for possible temporary (portables) campus should one of our existing schools no longer be functional (think wildfire), for continued outdoor/athletic programs within LAPS, and for development of badly needed Vocational Education programs within LAPS.

The School Board has an obligation to maximize the use of its public assets for the educational benefit of the LAPS student body. Defining and quantifying educational benefit is a difficult task. While housing for teachers and staff is an issue, LAPS should not be in the business of solving the housing needs of the Los Alamos community at large. Developing high-density “affordable” housing will not provide maximum benefit to LAPS students. A realistic continuous financial benefit, and affordable housing for staff appear to be mutually exclusive; any school land used for affordable community housing is contrary to the obligation of the School Board to the public. Additionally, any land development on school property should remain entirely in the hands of the School Board in order to retain control for future educational needs. Working with the Los Alamos County Council would likely result in limited financial benefit, as seen in the past. The board’s primary function must remain focused on the educational needs of LAPS students, and this proposed development would not accomplish this.

I would like to suggest the following as an option for the North Mesa land:

LAPS could plan a very small development, perhaps two houses at a time, built by a rejuvenated Building Trades program.  Students could learn about permitting and development, architecture and design, the building trades, landscaping, plumbing and heating, and property management.  LAPS could then rent these homes to incoming teachers (perhaps as part of a signing bonus) for a limited time as they work toward their own home ownership.  LAPS would retain ownership of both the buildings and the land.  While the financial return to LAPS is not the best, it is an investment in our students, particularly those who are currently underserved, and LAPS would retain control of the land. This model would result in slow and regulated development, allowing for a comprehensive evaluation of the program. For those who might argue that LAPS does not want to be in the rental business, you already are in the commercial rental business, and this would not be a huge step beyond current operations.

Should the Board wish to dream bigger, a small campus including a Day Care for those students interested in pursuing a future in Early Childhood Education, a Bakery/Coffee Shop for those interested in Food Service, a Tutoring Center for those interested in Teaching could all benefit LAPS students as well as LAPS employees who would use those services.

I respectfully request that the school board to go back to the drawing board and begin with clear goals that provide maximum benefit to LAPS students, and make those goals available to the public before engaging in any more negotiations with Los Alamos County or any other entity in regard to the North Mesa Property.

My three daughters attended school here from Kindergarten through High School graduation.  My family is grateful for the amazing education they received here, and I hope that legacy will continue. Thank you for the difficult job you all do on behalf of our students.

Lisa Reader
Los Alamos