BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Council voted unanimously Monday evening to support partnering with Los Alamos Public Schools to expand recreation spaces and other spaces available to the community in the White Rock elementary schools for an amount not to exceed $7.5 million for construction and design. Council directed County Manager Steven Lynne to prepare the necessary agreements between the two entities regarding funding and use of the space, and to bring a budget adjustment back to Council at a future meeting.
The decision was made during a joint hybrid meeting of the Council and the School Board. The School Board subsequently voted unanimously to accept the support. Prior to voting, board member Ellen Specter said she would like to express the Board’s deep gratitude to the Council for their generosity and vision in seeing how this kind of collaboration can benefit the whole community. Following the vote Board President Melanie Colgan reiterated Specter’s comment.
“Thank you very much for this great collaboration. We couldn’t do it without you all and we hope this will be a great community space for the entire County,” she said.
Earlier in the meeting County Manager Lynne said he thinks the County is at a unique point in time right now with the potential opportunity to partner with new construction with the schools.
“This is a concept that the previous superintendent (Kurt Steinhaus) and previous county manager (Harry Burgess) initiated, which is potential shared gym space both on North Mesa, which is being pursued separately, and in White Rock. We effectively went to the state legislature together and were successful in getting a little bit of approved funding to explore these possibilities in both locations,” he said.
Lynne noted that during the last joint meeting of the Council and the School Board, both bodies discussed the concept in White Rock and the direction was to explore both the Pinon Elementary and Chamisa Elementary campuses and see what’s possible.
“I think there’s a variety of potential options here. I think what we’re looking from a staff perspective is really a conceptual framework to move forward with. First and foremost is a dollar amount if Council is interested in pursuing any of this, part of my recommendation is to specify a fixed number or not-to-exceed amount so that we kind of understand what that placeholder is,” Lynne said.
He added that a primary purpose, the big accomplishment the County is looking to get out of it and if there is room or some space within that funding ceiling , perhaps a secondary purpose. He noted that the County needs to have a pretty high-level framework and agreement with the school district and let manage their projects. Lynne said in terms of project management he didn’t expect a big role for the County to play, that the school district has it well in hand working with the state.
During discussion on what additional expenses the County would face in the future for maintenance and upkeep of any facilities that were approved, Asst. Supt. Jennifer Guy said the best path forward would be to develop a joint use agreement articulating who’s responsible for what.
“The school district is well-poised to manage those buildings for the long-term. We will be managing and maintaining that site as a normal course of operations and so the extra square footage is not a problem for us to maintain, same thing with utilities and managing it through are current rentals process,” Guy said.
The current designs for the new schools have a capacity of 375 students for Chamisa and 376 for Pinon. Chamisa currently has about 285 students and Chamisa has 302. From early projections for next school year, Guy said Chamisa will be at about 320 and that will probably stabilize numbers around 375-400 over the next five years.
Guy said the hope is that in the future a 6th grade wing will be built at Los Alamos Middle School which would take the 6th graders out of the elementary schools and increase their capacities to have more kid which would then be for kindergarten through 5th grade.
Originally Council was presented the idea of helping to fund one gymnasium, however information on two gyms was presented Monday as well as a pod space based on input received from the community. Guy said if the school district was put in a position of recommending one gym over the other, they would most likely recommend the Pinon design, which seemed to lend itself best to some of the County’s long-term plans.
The estimated cost for the construction when it starts next year is $525 per square foot, up from $325.
The background on the replacement of the two elementary schools is that in November 2019 an LAPS $20 million bond was approved for demolition and replacement of the two schools, which were built in the 1960s. LAPS developed the Education Specifications for both schools in September 2021 and design work began in January. The Public Schools Facility Authority established the project schedule allowing for construction of the two schools – Pinon in May 2023 and Chamisa in May 2024. The County received $600,000 from the state to plan, design and construct infrastructure and facilities for a community recreation space in White Rock.
Subsequently, the County received a $600,000 State Legislative Capital Outlay grant for a community recreation space in White Rock with the authorizing language reading “to plan, design and construct infrastructure and facilities for a community recreation space in White Rock in Los Alamos County.” The County received the fully executed grant agreement in December 2021 that expires on June 30, 2025.
In April, LAPS notified County staff that the design and construction schedule set by the PSFA is aggressive and the County had a narrow window to consider funding the expansion of recreations at the new schools for community use. In April during annual budget hearings, Council approved a $6.5 million construction budget item for community recreation space in White Rock.
- 10,199 square feet at Pinon at a cost of $5,354,475
- 12,900 square feet at Chamisa at a cost of $6,772,500
- 1,944 square feet at Chamisa for a pod at a cost of $1,020,600
Council opted to approve the $7.5 million amount for design and construction. The DPS presentation to Council may be viewed at https://losalamos.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5690498&GUID=9B921E3C-9DFE-45F9-926D-C7AC66FBC59E&Options=&Search=&FullText=1