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Archive for Thursday, March 4, 1999

SPENDING DECISIONS

March 4, 1999

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If city and school officials were spending their own money, would they make the same decisions on property purchases?

It's so easy to spend someone else's money.

That, unfortunately, frequently seems to be the case when it comes to spending taxpayers' money. Those charged with spending public funds should be far more careful and prudent in this exercise than they would be in spending their own money.

Two recent examples:

Members of the Lawrence school board decided to approve the expenditure of $4.1 million to acquire a 60,000-square-foot building at 110 McDonald Drive for storage and administrative uses. School officials had said they needed 100,000 square feet, but they ended up far short of that goal. This is mighty expensive space being paid for with taxpayers' dollars. Unfortunately, this is not the first case of school board members spending questionable sums for questionable property.

In another example, Lawrence Arts Center officials are studying ways to expand the center. They, and some members of the Lawrence City Commission, are determined, no matter what, to meet the center's need for more space by adding onto the current facility at Ninth and Vermont streets. Present plans call for a $6.6 million project to add 22,000 square feet to the 10,000-square-foot building that formerly housed the public library. In addition to questionable cost and location, the expansion also is opposed by the local Historic Resources Commission and the state's top historic preservation officer.

There is no question that the city and its residents need a much larger arts center facility. The center has shown increased usage each year. It is a fine asset for the city. But for some reason, some seem committed and locked into the idea of sticking an addition onto the library building rather than moving to another location that would provide far more space at a substantially lower cost.

One possible site is located west of the Hallmark plant. Such a location would allow architects the freedom to design a building that would be flexible for various uses and has room to grow. There would be ample space for parking and for outdoor displays or a sculpture garden. The city already owns the land, and the center would have far more space at a much lower cost.

Such a situation would seem to make good sense, particularly to the city's taxpayers, but city commissioners seem to be wearing blinders and want to spend more than $6.6 million for a building with limited space, limited flexibility, limited parking and limited, if any, space to expand and which also bucks historic preservation officials.

Lawrence has an opportunity to have a first-class, maybe even a world-class community arts center, but the stubbornness of some individuals is denying current and future residents this opportunity.

Again, it is so easy to spend other people's money.

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