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Archive for Friday, October 11, 2002

$50 million bond issue likely to be put before district voters in 2003

October 11, 2002

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Three Lawrence elementary schools should be closed and two secondary schools built as part of a $50 million bond issue that reshapes the district's academic landscape, a majority of the school board said Thursday.

Board members met three hours with a half-dozen consultants to set priorities and map strategy for advancing the largest bond issue in district history.

A series of public meetings about the overhaul will be followed in November with a formal vote by the board on contents of the 20-year bond issue.

A referendum on this board's vision of the future will occur in 2003.

"The community will decide: 'You're right. You're wrong,'" said Scott Morgan, board president.

No timeline for consolidation and construction was discussed.

The board agreed, without a formal vote, to plan for closure of Riverside and East Heights elementary schools. Members put off until Oct. 21 a decision on whether to close Cordley or Centennial. Consultants estimated shutting down three schools would save $1.3 million annually in operational costs.

"If you decide to close Cordley instead of Centennial, it doesn't change these costs," said John Fuller of the DLR Group facilities consulting firm.

Of the seven board members, only Jack Davidson objected to closing a trio of elementary schools. He supports replacement of Riverside.

"That's my position," he said. "I'm not going to change it."

Morgan said the district's three-year decline in elementary school enrollment and dwindling state spending on public education required downsizing.

"We change, adapt," he said. "We don't stay wedded to buildings. We stay wedded to programs and kids."

Board members Mary Loveland, Leni Salkind, Linda Robinson and Sue Morgan also support closing three elementary schools.

Loveland said consolidation should accompany redrawing of school boundaries.

Dividing the pie

Consensus of the board was that $21.2 million should be earmarked to build a new South Junior High School, possibly on its current site, while retaining nearby Broken Arrow School.

Board members also want to allocate $10 million to upgrade academic spaces at Lawrence High School and Free State High School. Most of that money would go to LHS, which is more than 40 years older than Free State.

A total of $9.9 million would be spent to construct a new Lawrence Alternative High School at its present location in Holcom Park.

Millions of dollars of improvements to the remaining 15 elementary schools and three junior high schools would be included to reduce reliance on portable classrooms, address major maintenance needs and comply with federal disability law.

No substantial investment for game venues for athletic activities will be included in this bond issue.

The $50 million bond issue is nearly a third larger than the $36.9 million package approved by patrons in 1994. That package, the most expensive ever approved in Lawrence, included construction of Free State High School.

Board members chose from a $109 million wish list of academic and athletic facility improvements that could be tackled during the next 20 years. The list was prepared by DLR Group, the Overland Park engineering, architecture and construction management firm hired by the board last year.

"This bond issue isn't going to do everything that needs to be done in this district," Loveland said.

She said the district should return to voters in 2005 for a second bond issue to tackle items left over after the initial bond issue.

The board left undecided the idea of consolidating preschool programs into a new $4.4 million building.

"We're kind of setting that aside for purposes of discussion because they might go into another building," Salkind said.

Loveland recommended East Heights be converted to a preschool center.

Selling the plan

The board agreed to schedule two meetings at district headquarters and one at each junior high school during the next six weeks to gather public comment on the facilities plan.

Initial reaction from parents at the study session wasn't enthusiastic.

Jordan Lerner, chairman of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods with a child at Hillcrest School, said details of improvements to each school weren't clear. It's hard to evaluate a facilities program that lacks specifics, he said.

"You've got to give the community an opportunity to look at the package," he said.

Scott Fullerton, parent of a first-grader at Riverside, said absence of a timeline for consolidation and construction was disturbing.

"The one thing they didn't say was when they would close them," he said.

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