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Archive for Thursday, September 19, 2002

Board wants additional information on options for shutting down elementaries

September 19, 2002

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A majority of Lawrence school board members expressed interest Wednesday in plans to close three elementary schools and replace two junior high schools.

The board conducted a special three-hour meeting to sort through various options offered by a consulting group hired to help school officials develop a 20-year master plan for district facilities.

From among seven elementary school plans presented by the DLR Group consulting firm, the board requested additional information on a proposal to shut down East Heights, Centennial and Riverside schools.

More particulars also were requested for an option leading to closure of New York, Centennial and Riverside schools.

"In terms of the general concept of meeting the goals we set educationally and doing it in a more efficient manner, both of these plans seem to have some appeal," said board member Sue Morgan.

Both plans include renovations to all remaining elementary schools and would cost about $30 million.

The board also agreed during a three-hour public meeting that South Junior High School, 2734 La., should be demolished and rebuilt, but there was no consensus on where a new building should be.

"Absolutely, the junior high school has to be replaced," said board member Jack Davidson.

The board couldn't agree about the future of Central Junior High School, 1400 Mass. Some board members said it was no longer an effective building for a junior high. Others said remodeling could keep it in service.

"With Central, we're still swimming," said Scott Morgan, the board's president.

DLR Group, an Overland Park engineering and architecture firm, was asked to generate a report on the possibility of using Central for other educational purposes and replacing it by building a new junior high school in northwest Lawrence.

No formal action was taken by the board during the study session at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

Bond election is target

The board's work ultimately will lead to completion of a 20-year facilities master plan. That document will be a blueprint for the bond issue that would finance school improvements. No bond vote has been scheduled, but a package of enhancements will likely go before patrons no later than April 2003.

The original goal was to have a vote in November, but that's not going to happen. A mail-in ballot vote before the April school board elections is a possibility.

"November is out, clearly," Scott Morgan said. "There are all sorts of possibilities in between."

Both elementary school options still in the mix would close Centennial, 2145 La., and Riverside, 601 N. Iowa, but they differ on whether to close East Heights, 1430 Haskell Ave., or New York, 936 N.Y.

"I feel like I'm touching a third rail whichever way I go," said board member Austin Turney.

Where to put students

Also unclear is how the board would allocate children from closed schools. Students might be moved together to other elementary schools or assigned to many different schools based on neighborhood groupings.

Board member Mary Loveland said she wasn't impressed by plans to change boundaries for as many 10 elementary schools to accommodate consolidation.

"I would like to see changes operationally ... with minimum impact on classrooms," she said.

The board dismissed without comment an option that would have preserved all 18 elementary schools in the district. To bring each up to the board's educational standard would cost as much as $40 million. That also would leave the district with an excess capacity of about 1,000 classroom spots.

"They would be underutilized," said Supt. Randy Weseman.

Two elementary schools  Cordley, 1837 Vt., and Broken Arrow, 2704 La.,  were tagged for possible consolidation by DLR Group. There was support on the board for retaining Broken Arrow even if the adjacent South building is demolished. Cordley's fate wasn't clear.

It's assumed building additions would be made to all remaining schools to bring them up to the board's academic standard, which was developed in concert with DLR Group.

The board briefly discussed the possibility of buying land in south and west Lawrence for construction of new schools as population expands.

Junior high plans

In terms of junior high schools, the board appears willing to revamp facilities serving seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders.

While the board made progress on dealing with South, their knees buckled when asked to address Central. The building is the former Liberty Memorial High School, which honors students who served in World War I.

The age of the building and lack of land for expansion make it nearly impossible to rehabilitate, said Scott Morgan.

"It's a building that has outlived its function," he said. "To serve these kids and give them the equity they deserve, they need a new facility."

He suggested the board think about building a new junior high in northwest Lawrence and taking Central out of commission.

Board member Leni Salkind said million of dollars in upgrades wouldn't make Central the equal of other junior highs in the district.

"I would love us to use that building in some other way," she said.

It was suggested by DLR Group that it could be converted to the district's administration building, but Turney strongly objected.

He said that move would open a can of worms by calling into question the district's investment several years ago of $4.1 million in its current headquarters.

"We'll have an awful lot of fallout," he said.

Meet the consultants

A community meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district's offices for a briefing on options generated by DLR Group. Members of the consulting team will take questions from the public about the facilities planning process.

DLR Group will return Oct. 2 to outline alternatives for improving facilities at the two high schools, moving Lawrence Alternative High School, 2600 W. 25th, and creating district athletic facilities.

The board will convene Oct. 10 to consider detailed plans drafted by the consultants on all elementary and secondary issues.

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