Los Alamitos USD Deciding how to use Dwindling Bond Dollars

Bond Measure money already spent on new aquatics center and multistory S.T.E.M. building at Los Alamitos High School

Los Alamitos USD Deciding how to use Dwindling Bond Dollars

In 2018, residents in the Los Alamitos Unified School District voted to raise property taxes to finance a $97 million bond measure. Measure G  was pitched as a way to pay for infrastructure upgrades at the more than 50-year-old Los Alamitos High School campus.

Nearly four years later, millions of dollars from  Measure G and  Measure K , approved in 2008, have paid for projects at the district’s nine campuses across Rossmoor, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach.

At LAHS, that includes the $9.2 million  aquatics center that opened in 2020. Then there is the gleaming high-tech three-story S.T.E.M. building now under construction and slated to open for the 2022-23 school year. Up next, a second gymnasium at LAHS that could become a competition facility.

After all these projects, bond measure money is running low and construction costs continue to  skyrocket . Now the district is faced with deciding how to best use dwindling bond dollars.

“I want to thank the community for their trust,” Board President Diana Hill said in a phone interview this week, crediting district voters with supporting the two bond measures that have financed many improvements at the schools.

“The district has been really good stewards of that money. We’ve been able to stretch it as far as we could,” she said. Still Hill acknowledges the time has come to make some challenging decisions on how to allocate the remaining funds.

Soaring Costs for Second Gymnasium Force Board to Consider Options

The challenging decisions are now front and center as the district embarks on its last big bond-measure-funded project – a second gymnasium for the high school campus that would accommodate multiple sports teams and be able to host assemblies and events.

“As we move forward we're really trying to find what is the most economical way for us to construct this gym while meeting all of our needs at the high school,” C.J. Knowland, Director of Facilities, Maintenance and Operations and Transportation, told board members at the  March 22 Board of Education meeting during a presentation on the scope, design and cost for the gymnasium project.

As Superintendent Andrew Pulver explained that night, the original roughly $20 million budget for the gymnasium no longer covers the scope of the project as envisioned by campus stakeholders.

The proposed design for the nearly 38,000 square-foot gymnasium includes three full competition courts, 2,000-seat bleachers, a weight room and outdoor fitness areas, a concession stand, additional restrooms and multiple team rooms.

There’s also a plan to build a circulation corridor alongside the courts that would help limit the wear and tear from spectator traffic on the gym floor.

Depending on the materials used and the design, the current cost was estimated to be between $27 million and nearly $34 million, according to the presentation given by Westgroup Designs, the architecture firm hired by the district.

“That scope has expanded but … I don't know if our budget has expanded yet,” Pulver said early on in the meeting. “And so, we will have to make some difficult assessments along that,” meaning the board could consider increasing the gymnasium budget at the expense of other projects.

“The gym is a project that we committed to and that we really feel is needed for many different groups on campus,” Hill said in the recent phone interview.

But Hill and other board members say they would also like to replace aging, dirty carpet, update fixtures and bring fresh coats of paint to LAHS classrooms. An estimated $11 millions of bond money was allocated for that beautification project.

Another item was upgrades for the Performing Arts Center but it’s not clear if any bond money was formally set aside for that.

At the March 22 meeting, the board was shown costs for specific items in the gymnasium project. They were then presented with options of what could be eliminated or built at a later date to get closer to a $20 million budget.

Board members decided to not make any shifts in funding now and to first consult again with staff at the high school to find out their priorities.

“I would love the input of the staff and I think we need to look at cutbacks on the things that could be put in later at the least amount of cost like the weight room,” board member Marlys Davidson said. “You know, we don't always get everything but then we work towards getting it,” she added.

“I feel confident that the board will look at the best long-term use of the money and the gym,” Hill said during the phone call this week.

At the close of the discussion at the March 22 meeting, board member Megan Cutuli exhorted about the need to “Find more money.”

One potential source is matching funds from the state of California. With a budget surplus, Governor Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers are  proposing sending billions of dollars in one-time money to schools for construction and infrastructure projects. But it’s not yet clear how that money would be given out.

Hill said she is working with the California School Boards Association to advocate for Los Alamitos USD to get some of the funding.

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