County Supports Shared Recreation Spaces at New White Rock Schools

The plans selected for the new Pinon and Chamisa primary schools. Courtesy/BAC

By Kristen Laskey
Los Alamos Daily Message

White Rock is on track to not only get new elementary schools, but also new, expanded gym space for students and the public.

At a special joint meeting Monday evening, the Los Alamos County Council and the Los Alamos Public Schools Board (LAPS) unanimously approved county financial support for the inclusion of gym space. enlarged in the design plans for the new Chamisa Elementary and Pinon Elementary buildings.

The Board voted 7 to 0 to support the partnership with Los Alamos Public Schools to design and build recreational and other community-available spaces in White Rock Elementary Schools by contributing no more. of $7.5 million. That’s enough for just one of the sites, but there may be enough funds left over to add space to the second site, Chairman Randall Ryti told the Los Alamos Daily Post on Wednesday. The necessary agreements will be worked out between the school district and the county and the county manager will come back to the board with a budget adjustment.

For its part, the school board approved 4-0, council member Erin Green was absent, to approve the county’s partnership in the project.

Although it was initially recommended that the Council specify the elementary school and square footage, councilors ultimately decided against it so that public schools could have some flexibility in their plans.

Councilman David Izraelevitz pointed out that the county may need to adjust its support for the design; Also, as more information about the different uses of the spaces becomes known, a future board can make decisions about changing its financial contributions.

“…There are still unknowns about the types of uses,” he said. “I like…being able to do additional things that need to be done as they come up…”

Council Vice-Chair Denise Derkacs added that there was no need to specify the square footage. However, she said she would rather identify a dollar amount and the projects than give “a blank check.”

School board members encouraged the county to support the collaboration.

Board Secretary Antonio Jaurigue stressed “the importance of space here. Schools will grow, so we want to look to the future of schools…we have outgrown these schools and I don’t want to move out of these (new) schools halfway through their lifespan.

He pointed out that the school district has good funding resources, as shown by its student-to-teacher ratio and ability to provide laptops during COVID. What is missing, said Jaurigue, is space. Students are crammed into classrooms and the community faces scheduling conflicts whenever an organization or group wants to reserve space within a school.

Board chair Melanie Colgan echoed that statement. As a parent and coach, Colgan said she knows firsthand the difficulty of securing a school facility.

“As a parent and coach, it’s a competitive market to get that space…we need that space,” Colgan said.

Board Member Ellen Specter thanked the Council for “your generosity and vision and seeing how this collaboration can benefit the entire community.”

Superintendent Dr. Jose Delfin emphasized that this is an investment in the future of the community.

“The legacy we’re building today kind of helps to imagine what the future will be like for our next phase of citizens,” he said.

County Executive Steven Lynne said the county and school district have partnered on this project in the past.
He said county and LAPS officials have gone to the state legislature to seek funding for new school buildings.

Still, Lynne said it was the school’s project and he didn’t think the county would play a significant role in managing the project.
Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Guy added that once the buildings are constructed, they will be under the direction of the school for maintenance, operations, utilities, etc.

The project is in the design development phase and the latest plans were shared at the meeting. The three phases completed are discovery, programming and schematic design, said Juan Dorado with Dekker Perich Sabatini.

In the design development phase, “the plan starts to come together,” he said.

Consultants get involved such as mechanical, civil, electrical, plumbing and systems integration. He added that the construction of the new Pinon Elementary is expected to start in May 2023 and the new Chamisa building is expected to start construction in May 2024. The existing buildings will not be demolished during the construction phase. Dorado said the Chamisa building is expected to be completed by August 2025.
Regarding the concept of Chamisa, Dorado said that four different site layouts were created. The one that was selected was a pattern known as circular pods. This program, he said, encompasses the teaching spaces and classroom wings of the elementary (kindergarten through second grade) and senior teams (third through sixth grade). The focus is on a shared core that could remain open for after-hours community use while being able to close pods and separate educational spaces from community spaces, Dorado said.

As for common areas, he said these include the art room, the media center/library, and the music room. The gymnasium has a full court for basketball, bleachers, a stage platform, storage spaces, space for concessions. A multipurpose room is also available.

Like Chamisa, four site diagrams were developed for Pinon and one, identified as curves, was selected. It would be a multi-level building. The kindergarten and kindergarten would be in the northwest part of the school. The areas in the middle would be available to the community after hours. Years 1 through 3 areas are grouped together and Years 4 through 6 would be grouped together.
The gymnasium is also a full-size athletic field, which includes retractable bleachers. A multipurpose room, music room, art room and library would be available to the community after hours.

With the two proposed schemes, Dorado showed what the county’s contribution in square footage would be. For Pinon, the county would contribute 10,199 square feet. The gymnasium project is expected to cost $5.3 million or $525 per square foot. For Chamisa, the county would contribute 12,900 square feet and the projected cost for the gymnasium would be $6.7 million or $525 per square foot.

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