Los Alamos: The making of a community

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1917: Ashley Pond starts the Los Alamos Ranch School, a private boarding school for boys that blends academics and rigorous physical activity. Students include future authors Gore Vidal and William S. Burroughs. The Los Alamos community on the Pajarito Plateau consists largely of scattered homesteaders and the school.

1942: On Nov. 25, the U.S. War Department approves Los Alamos as the site for a laboratory focusing on research and design programs as part of the Manhattan Project effort to build an atomic bomb. The Army buys the Ranch School property and about 54,000 surrounding acres--mostly land owned by the U.S. Forest Service. In the project's first year, 80 babies are born in Los Alamos, a town that officially does not exist. Their birth certificates show their place of birth as P.O. Box 1663. The average age of residents is 24. Los Alamos becomes something of a boom town, with the population doubling every nine months until the end of World War II in 1945.

1943: Central School opens in September to serve the Manhattan Project children. The school building is considered one of the most elaborate built in Los Alamos during the war, angering military officials who intended that the wartime community remain temporary. Walter W. Cook of the University of Minnesota plans the school's curriculum. The federal government runs the school until 1946 and funds the school system entirely until 1949.

1945: On July 16, after 27 months of work, scientists conduct the Trinity test in the desert of south-central New Mexico. At Alamogordo, roughly 200 miles from Los Alamos, the blast is deemed a success, releasing an explosion equal to 20,000 tons of TNT.

1945: On Aug. 6, the United States uses the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, destroying much of the Japanese seaport town. On Aug. 9, another bomb is dropped on the smaller town of Nagasaki.

1945: Japan formally surrenders on Sept. 2, marking the end of World War II.

1950 to 1955: The Los Alamos schools become part of New Mexico's public school system and start receiving state education funds in addition to continued federal payments, which make up roughly one-third of the district's annual budget.

1955: Congress passes the Atomic Energy Community Act, officially authorizing the federal government to make payments to Los Alamos and the two other Manhattan Project communities--with project sites in Richland, Wash., and Oak Ridge, Tenn.--until they reach "self sufficiency."

1957: The security gates and checkpoints around Los Alamos come down, and the Atomic City is no longer a closed city.

1962: The Atomic Energy Community Act is amended to allow the government to transfer ownership of land, buildings, and equipment to the Manhattan Project communities. It also authorizes payments to the communities for a period of 10 years, in the case of Los Alamos, running from fiscal 1967 to 1976.

1967: Ownership of the school land, buildings, and equipment officially transfers to the Los Alamos school board.

1970s: Richland, Wash., stops receiving federal-assistance payments under the 1955 act. Payments to the city and the schools are phased out by the end of the decade.

1981: The Los Alamos schools enter into a six-year contract with the U.S. Department of Energy for continued payments.

1986: Assistance payments for Los Alamos are renewed, but are set to expire in fiscal 1996. Oak Ridge, Tenn., and its surrounding counties receive a $41 million final settlement from the federal government, ending the annual assistance payments under the 1955 act.

1996: President Clinton signs an omnibus defense bill that includes a one-year extension for payments by the Energy Department to Los Alamos to expire in June 1997. In the meantime, Los Alamos and the Energy Department are to file a report to Congress by June 30 that lays out a plan for moving Los Alamos to self-sufficiency.

Vol. 15, Issue 29

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