The locations of four potential sites for a joint County-Los Alamos Public Schools recreational facility/gymnasium to be located on the Los Alamos Middle School campus as discussed at Tuesday’s Los Alamos County Council meeting. Courtesy LAC
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
It looks like Los Alamos County will issue a request for proposals (RFP) for design services to evaluate two site options at Los Alamos Middle School for construction of a gymnasium and develop preliminary concept designs. Site No. 1 is west of the cafeteria and Site No. 2 is south of the bus lane.
According to County Public Works Director Anne Laurent, from there, public input will be sought and documented, and cost considerations further developed.
“Before the more detailed design development efforts proceed, staff will return to the Los Alamos Public Schools Board and County Council for further input and direction with the goal of selecting the site and finalizing the base scope, identifying any additive alternates, and establishing a construction budget,” Laurent said. “Separately, but including consideration of this project’s construction funding amount, the County Council requested a future discussion about the broader capital project planning and prioritization.”
Laurent made a presentation to Council during Tuesday night’s regular meeting. She made a similar presentation before the LAPS board earlier last month. Laurent said the presentation was intended to be informational and that she hoped to get an idea of where Council was sitting on the project. She noted that a lot of time has passed since former County Manager Harry Burgess and former LAPS Supt. Kurt Steinhaus went to the state seeking support for a recreational facility a joint schools-community project. Laurent also noted that some market conditions have changed over that time period. The state agreed in 2019 to award $350,000 for the design portion of the facility and eventually issued a contract for signature that would basically be an agreement on how the funds can be used.
County and LAMS staff have been meeting to discuss in detail the project goals and where exactly the building could fit on the LAMS campus because of constraints with other buildings and utilities infrastructure.
“Initially, the facility was conceived to be something less than 10,000 square feet and basically just a multi-use basketball court with a volleyball court with a building around it,” Laurent said. “Then there were other considerations that will affect the size of the facility.”
She noted that with market conditions and the continuing escalation of labor shortages in the construction field as well as difficulties obtaining certain materials for construction and the employees associated with those. She said a lot has been learned but that the market continues to rise at a significant rate.
“Because we anticipate this facility being jointly used as a school and community building, it’s important that right from the beginning we all agree, that we need to talk about how it is going to be occupied, who is going to be responsible for what and how it is going to work because there are things like security, access, communication, scheduling and other kinds of cost that need to be discussed,” Laurent said.
She said it is important not to leave those discussions until the end because the opportunity to design the facility in a way that helps manage it as a joint facility could be lost.
Laurent noted that Site No. 1, which had been identified by LAPS as the preferred site, is very limited in terms of future expansion. She said storage, locker rooms and restrooms would be important to support the gymnasium activities or that use of the building would be limited. When the $350,000 was awarded for design work, the high level idea was that that amount would be 10 percent of $3.5 million for a facility that was smaller than 12,000 square feet.
.Laurent said funding for construction will be requested from the state and hopefully some would be awarded for the project.
“We don’t know what that would be at this time. There’s a good chance scenario that it wouldn’t be fully funded so we want to be prepared for how we would address that at that time either through how we design the project, opportunities to scale back if we need to, or an idea if this is the minimum scope,” she said.
During meetings of County and LAMS staff, the importance of the facility being on the LAMS campus was discussed because it is intended to be used during the day for curriculum as well as after school athletics. Laurent said the intention is for school athletics practice to happen in multiple locations after school. She said right now what’s available is limited and some kids have to wait until others to be done so their practices are lasting late into the evening.
“The primary purpose of this project is to take some pressure off the after school needs as well as the ability to use it during the day. There are some plans to evaluate adding sixth grade to this campus.,” she said.
Laurent said Site No. 1, the grassy area that is south of the existing gym and west of the cafeteria is the preferred site. It has some utilities running around it but not in the middle of it and is a place where a building could be constructed that could potentially connect to the existing gym or have exterior access.
“The downside is it is the farthest away from the current parking lot for the site but in terms of the school’s perspective, this is where they envisioned this facility going and where they continue to envision it and where the school board supported last month,” she said.
Sites No. 2 and 3 were looked at because their size would possibly allow for the addition of amenities although Site No. 3 was strongly opposed by LAMS staff and the school board primarily because of safety issues students having to cross the parking lot and it not being connected enough to the campus. Laurent noted that Site No. 2 was maybe a compromise as even though it’s sloped and possibly would come with some increased construction costs to deal with the terrain there, it could work. She said at the end of the day, the school board’s input was that the basic needs are a gym with minimal support facilities they can fit on Site No. 1.
“And given that we are going to be looking at the potential of a second joint facility in White Rock and the state awarded us this last session $600,000 to do that, that might be the opportunity to put in more amenities than what we can fit here,” Laurent said.
She said what would fit at Site No. 2 would be a full sized court that could be divided into two half courts so that they could run two classes at one time making it much more functional. She said the basic plan does not include as much seating as the current gym.
“It certainly wouldn’t be the 350 preferred for competitions but there would be seating which is good for an auxiliary gym,” she said. “It’s more than just a metal building around a court. But it’s not all the amenities it would be if money and space weren’t any constraints,” Laurent said.
She said the preliminary plan includes four locker rooms, storage and restrooms because those would be needed to make the facility functional and that concessions and a multipurpose room would fall into the “nice to have” category. There is also the possibility of adding a second level over the locker rooms and storage areas. That would be the only opportunity to expand at Site No. 1. The plans Laurent discussed would fall into the 17,000 to 18,000 range. She said she looked at other communities that were building these types of facilities and that they are often in the 20,000 to 30,000 square feet range.
In terms of usage, Laurent said LAPS is looking to use the facility between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on school days and then for tournaments on eight weekends a year. She said the idea is to open up to the community for use by reservation when it is not being used by LAPS. She noted that there needs to be some discussion about whether the County of LAPS own and be responsible for the asset maintenance, utility costs, cleaning etc.
Because it’s time to issue an RFP for design services, Laurent said the County and LAPS need to be as clear as possible about any known constraints for the project and what they expect the public outreach to be.
“One thing we haven’t worked through too much is the construction phase. It is probably comparable in scale to something like the Leisure Lagoon where it could be done in one season. It is an independent building so it could certainly be fenced off and separated and worked on as part of campus however, this project is going to have some pretty significant sensitivities with school activities, noise, time of working and learning, and then construction, parking for workers, any interactions and who could go where when for security and safety purposes,” Laurent said.
During discussion of the presentation, Community Services Department Manager Cory Styron noted that with the possibility of the North Mesa Housing Project going forward, the County is looking at 300 rooftops in that general vicinity. He said he thought it would be nice if there was something a little larger that could accommodate additional community events, meetings for local groups, and activities in the evenings. He said it would be nice to have additional gym space for school activities but also for an opportunity for some tourism events there as well during the off season.
“I like this idea. My personal idea is that it would be nice to look at something a little larger since we’re talking about that housing development. I think that’s a real game changer for what could be possible with that unit in that area,” Styron said.
Council Vice Chair James Robinson noted that currently the schools own all the gymnasiums in town. He asked there are currently bottlenecks with fitting in all the programming the community needs and if the proposed gym might alleviate that.
“We are short gym space in this community not only for the schools but for the programs we have. We’re starting to see an uptick as we’re coming out of COVID with our programs and their facilities. This would be another way to increase capacity across the school district and the community as well as other users,” Styron said.
LAMS Principal Suzanne Lynne said the current gym would not accommodate an assembly if sixth grade was added to the school.
“Right now we’re pretty much bursting at the seams in there. And when we invite other people to come to play in tournaments, we only have two locker rooms which are in pretty bad condition,” Lynne said, adding that “gross” might be the best term to use. “Having an additional gym that would be good for the community as well as the middle school is huge in a way that I don’t know that I can even get across to you well.”
Interim Supt. Jennifer Guy said LAPS is committed to opening the facilities that it has and making its gyms and spaces available to the community.
“We right now stay fully-rented for every space we’ve got – every gym every night. There are groups we are unable to give gym space to at this time and we’re in a place where if we want to use our gym space in the evening literally we have to plan several months in advance and rent it from ourselves to get on the calendar because there’s such demand for facilities,” Guy said. “Right now as a community, we’re struggling a little bit in supporting the community and everybody that wants a gym.”
Councilor Denise Derkacs said she is very intrigued by the possibility of a facility in White Rock. Laurent noted that this calendar, the state had awarded $600,000 for that project and that she anticipated seeing that contract somewhere early next year so it will be a year or more behind the North Mesa gym project. No site has been selected for that facility..
Laurent said the school board has indicated that LAPS is financially limited on what they can contribute because all their resources are going to the rebuilding of Pinon and Chamisa Elementary Schools in White Rock over the next year. She said what she has heard from LAPS is that it would be nice to have more than the minimum for the facility but that they understand it comes at a price and they’re already over budget with the minimum.
“If we’re comfortable with a larger budget, then Site No. 2 comes into play. I think if the Council is not comfortable with pursuing a larger more expensive project, then I really think we do need to stick to Site 1, because that by definition will keep us constrained,” she said.
Supt. Guy said if the County is looking for a bigger building space and really thinking of something more for the community, LAPS would become more flexible about the location for the project but if the minimum project is planned LAPS would prefer to have it closer to the LAMS campus.
“We don’t want to go way across the street to just have a minimal shell and minimal use. If we’re going to build something bigger we’re going to be more flexible. It would be difficult to get the wings for sixth grade in unless we opted for Site 3 or 4.
County Manager Lynne noted that right now, the placeholder in the County’s capital projects plan is $3.5 million.
“In terms of overall constraints, that is really part of a larger capital project discussion and really looking at the entire capital plan and weighing priorities. I think within the context that Anne (Laurent) is looking for tonight, the question is really from a design perspective, which alternatives is Council willing to consider. I think if council said it was a priority we could accommodate some larger amount of money. How much more? We need to look at the entire plan,” Lynne said.
Laurent said the big unknown is how much the state is going to contribute and that the nice thing is the County has potential sources beyond gross receipts tax.
Councilor Sean Williams said he felt Council should have a conversation about capital projects priorities before the design phase.
Laurent said the reason that Council guidance is being sought is that if the County goes out with an RFP with a completely blank canvas and no constraints, it’s less useful information that if it can establish some known constraints.
There was further discussion about how the role of the County might change with one site rather than the other because the community would have more opportunity to use the facility. How to establish open gym time was also discussed.