One year after the Lawrence school board voted to purchase the former Elks Lodge building for an administration center, school officials see several benefits to the move.
Because of the move, administrators' efforts are more coordinated, and the district has more classroom space, school officials say.
But local taxpayers who were critical of the purchase say they wish the transaction had been handled differently.
It was on Jan. 28, 1991, that the school board voted to purchase the former Elks Lodge building at 3705 Clinton Pkwy. The 15,600-square-foot building is nearly twice the size of the former administration center at 1919 Del.
SOME CRITICS were bothered that the board paid $600,000 for the building because Lawrence resident Daniel Hix had paid $300,000 when he purchased the building from the Elks Club in 1990. School officials noted that Hix made major improvements to the building.
"It wasn't just painted. It's a totally renovated building," Lawrence School Supt. Dan Neuenswander said last February.
Hix said he performed more than $170,000 in renovations with the intent of moving his screen-printing business into the building.
But Lawrence attorney Dean Burkhead was bothered by more than just the cost of the building.
"Even if it were a good purchase, there should have been an independent appraisal," Burkhead said Monday, reiterating a point he raised in February.
SCHOOL officials said that while the district did not seek a formal appraisal on the building, administrators discussed the building's condition with architects and others who had worked on the renovation. The district also enlisted the help of real estate professionals to determine other sites that were available for purchase or lease.
After the purchase, the board approved several renovations, including 20 new windows, an expanded parking lot, heating and air-conditioning improvements and a lawn sprinkler system. Miscellaneous work included sheetrock walls, carpeting, lighting and new ceiling panels.
Craig Fiegel, the district's director for business and facilities, said Monday that the total cost to buy and renovate the building was $896,000. That figure, he said, does not include what district workers earned to help with the renovations last summer.
"THE PEOPLE who were on the district payroll would have been paid no matter where in the district they were working," Fiegel said. Besides, he said, it would have been extremely time-consuming to keep tabs on the hours that district employees spent working at the building.
Some people were concerned that time district employees spent on the renovation took away from work on other school buildings.
But School Board President Mary Loveland said Tuesday that completion of the administration center last summer was necessary to free up classroom space for the fall.
While the old administration center housed about 35 people, the present center houses about 50 people. That staff movement freed two portable classrooms at West Junior High School, one classroom at Kennedy School and another at New York School.
CENTRALIZING administrative staff has helped coordinate their efforts, according to Sandra Chapman, the district's director of student outcomes and services.
"I think it's more time-efficient. We don't have to travel from school to school to do simple routine things," Chapman said. "If we want to discuss an issue, we can have a last-minute meeting. We don't have to make it a big event."
Loveland said the center's 1,260-square-foot conference room is something that was noticeably absent at the old administration center. Not only does it allow for large group meetings, but it provides a better site for school board meetings than the Lawrence High School library.
"IT MAKES board meetings move a little more smoothly when you can just walk down the hall to grab a file or make photocopies," she said.
Board member Tom Murray, who was highly critical of the building purchase during last spring's school board race, said Monday that he had no comment on the issue. However, board member Jerry Hannah, who also was elected in the spring, did raise one concern.
"The logic was that we moved into that building to get everybody under one roof, but everybody's not there," Hannah said.
The district's Indian education program and instructional materials center are across town at the old administration center.
Fiegel said the district still is asking $375,000 for the former administration center. If the building sells, the district might have to lease space for those programs until space is available.
Board members have said the 4.23 acres of land that came with the former Elks lodge could be used later for expansion.
Loveland said she doesn't like leasing because "at the end of the leasing period, you have nothing to show for the expenditure of those tax dollars except for the receipt bill."