Los Alamitos Unified School District celebrates ‘topping off’ of new STEM building

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The last beam for the three story Los Alamitos High School STEM building, now under construction has been laid into place, complete with a “topping off” ceremony that included hand written messages from community officials and board members, a U.S. flag and an evergreen tree (an age old tradition) to thank the earth for providing the materials. Courtesy photo

With signatures and messages of key officials written thereon, the last major structural steel beam has been bolted into place at the construction site of the Los Alamitos School District’s much awaited three-story STEM building.

In an hour-long workshop preceding the most recent LAUSD board meeting, Facilities Director C.J. Knowland said construction of the 83,000 square foot educational facility on the campus of Los Alamitos High School was moving quickly.

Albeit on short notice, the board celebrated the moment with a brief topping off ceremony that included board members, former Supt. Dr. Sherry Kropp, current Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver and many who have been instrumental in the Measure G project signing the final beam before it was lifted into place.

Knowland said a “topping off” (sometimes referred to as “topping out) ceremony is generally held when the last piece of steel is placed at the highest point of the new structure.

The last beam was lifted carrying the handwritten messages, an American flag and an evergreen tree, which began as a Scandinavian tradition to honor the earth for producing the materials needed for construction, said Knowland, and for no significant injuries.

The topping off ceremony is a builders’ rite, an ancient tradition thought to have originated in Scandinavia by 700 AD.

The state-of-the-art, 83,000 square foot STEM facility will include 14 science classrooms, 13 general education classrooms along with career and technical education centers.

Originally scheduled to open in the fall of 2022, Knowland said the project was running ahead of schedule and could be completed by February of 2022 and opened by summer.

Knowland also gave the board an update on several playground projects at elementary schools within the district that are being constructed with Measure G funding.

The district has already completed and dedicated a new high tech Aquatics Center at the high school that was constructed with Measure G funding.

Knowland said three additional so-called “large” projects at the high school are under review, including a new gymnasium, modernization of the Los Al Performing Arts Center and an overall campus modernization.

However, according to Dr. Pulver, higher than expected pandemic construction costs will likely compel the board to focus on “needs vs. wants” going forward.

“We are going to have to reassess what we can, and can’t do,” Pulver told the board, though they did not go into any specifics. “We are not going to have enough Measure G dollars to these (remaining) three large projects,” he suggested.

Pulver said it’s hard getting a good cost estimate, noting contractor estimates are preferred over architects estimates. He said it seems contractors come closer to the actual costs.

While not specific, he said the infrastructure costs at the high school were estimated to cost $10 million while the actual cost was $20 million.

At an estimated cost of $52 million, the STEM building is, by far, the most significant project as part of the Measure G bond, which was approved by voters in November of 2018. The entire amount of construction funding approved by voters was approximately $98 million.

Knowland briefly discussed potential options with the board, including reducing the proposed three basketball court gymnasium at the school to two courts.

Pulver said “more options” are being developed to bring before the board.

Compounding the situation, Pulver said the board’s current budget will make it unable to provide an additional $2 million to its capital projects fund, as hoped, which he said would result in another reduction of $10 million in capital improvements over the next five years.

Knowland said he is searching for other funds, including matching funds, to benefit the board going forward.

Board President Marlys Davidson paid tribute to the previous board and Superintendent for their vision in proposing the Measure G project, and she praised the community for approving it two years ago. “I deeply appreciate what I’m seeing,” said Davidson.