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Archive for Monday, March 10, 2003

Elementary schools face turning point

March 10, 2003

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Gary Johnson sees the $59 million bond issue as a double-edged sword.

As principal at East Heights School, he understands it would be in the best interests of the 10,000-student district to finance improvements at 15 of the district's 25 school buildings.

As principal of the small elementary school on Haskell Avenue slated for closure under the bond plan, Johnson also knows how hard it would be for East Heights students, teachers and parents to lose the school, long the neighborhood's anchor.

"The issues are complex, especially for us," he said. "There are advantages and disadvantages. I just try to encourage people to get educated about the facts."

The district's bond plan goes before voters April 1. It is based on a comprehensive master plan the school board developed to guide facility improvements.

Under the proposal, $45.9 million would be spent on secondary school facilities.

Elementary projects at nine schools would consume $12.8 million. Two-thirds of the elementary total would be invested at Cordley and New York schools. Both schools would be expanded to accommodate more students when nearby Centennial and East Heights schools are closed.

Cordley

After meeting her daughter Senia, 6, right, a student at East
Heights School, Fika Stanford and her other children, Sina, 2, and
Charles, 3, walk back to their house in East Lawrence. Under the
proposed school bond, students at East Heights would move into an
expanded New York School, and the East Heights building would
become an early childhood education center.

After meeting her daughter Senia, 6, right, a student at East Heights School, Fika Stanford and her other children, Sina, 2, and Charles, 3, walk back to their house in East Lawrence. Under the proposed school bond, students at East Heights would move into an expanded New York School, and the East Heights building would become an early childhood education center.

Elizabeth Bittlingmayer could be the poster child for a campaign to upgrade Cordley, the district's oldest elementary building. The special-education teacher works out of one of the smallest and most unusual offices in the district -- an old bathroom complete with sink and toilet.

"You cannibalize spaces to do what should be done in functional classrooms," Supt. Randy Weseman said on a recent tour of the school.

The bond would authorize $4.6 million for additions and renovations at Cordley. Students now attending Centennial would move to Cordley when work finished in 2005.

The most visible change at Cordley would be an addition on the school's north side of three general-purpose classrooms, an art room, computer lab and special-education areas.

The project includes expansion of the school's library and reconfiguration of space for a cafeteria. Cordley's main entry would move to the northeast corner, next to an area renovated for use as a central office.

When finished, the combined school's enrollment would be 280 students -- right at the district's average.

East Heights, New York

The board hasn't decided what to do with Centennial. Open land to the south and west of the school could be used by Lawrence High School for sports practice fields. The building will remain in district hands, Weseman said, and might become an annex of LHS.

"This makes sense to me to be used for specialized high school program -- art, computers, business," he said.

If the bond passes, Johnson's students at East Heights could expect to move into the upgraded New York building by early 2005. That's when $3.3 million in construction and renovation would be finished.

"This becomes a bright, shiny penny," Weseman said.

On a tour of Cordley School, Supt. Randy Weseman visits a small
bathroom space turned into an office for special-education teacher
Elizabeth Bittlingmayer. "You cannabilize spaces to do what should
be done in functional classrooms," Weseman said. Under the proposed
$59 million bond issue, elementary projects at nine schools would
consume $12.9 million.

On a tour of Cordley School, Supt. Randy Weseman visits a small bathroom space turned into an office for special-education teacher Elizabeth Bittlingmayer. "You cannabilize spaces to do what should be done in functional classrooms," Weseman said. Under the proposed $59 million bond issue, elementary projects at nine schools would consume $12.9 million.

Classroom additions on the north and south ends of New York would free space in the existing building for renovation as art, music and special-education classrooms.

In addition, library instructional space would be enlarged, a cafeteria would be built and teacher work spaces created.

The New York and East Heights merger would produce an enrollment no greater than 280.

The building at East Heights wouldn't be abandoned by the district. The board's plan is to transform the site into an early-childhood education center. After-school, adult education and community outreach programs also could be housed there.

Other projects

A crumbling wall in the basement of Cordley School would be one of
several facility improvements at the school with its share of the
$59 million bond issue.

A crumbling wall in the basement of Cordley School would be one of several facility improvements at the school with its share of the $59 million bond issue.

Weseman said hubbub about consolidation had diverted attention from details of other elementary school projects in the bond, such as replacing portable classrooms with permanent structures.

"A lot of this is basic to keeping a place working properly," Weseman said. "People need to take a look at portables."

The bond sets aside $4.9 million to build additions to seven schools that would replace trailers used as classrooms.

The $1.3 million addition to Deerfield School, which has the district's largest elementary enrollment, can't come too soon. In August, students now attending Riverside will be split between Deerfield and Pinckney schools. That is expected to push Deerfield's enrollment to 525 students.

"We're operating now at peak efficiency," Principal Suzie Soyster said. "We need that space."

Construction on Deerfield's south side would add three general-education classrooms. The project includes a computer lab and special-education areas.

Supt. Randy Weseman walks along a Centennial School hallway in this photo from March 2003 on a tour of the building. Under the facility master plan, Centennial would be closed and its students moved to another school. Because of Centennial's proximity to Lawrence High School, Weseman envisioned the elementary school being used for special LHS activities.

Supt. Randy Weseman walks along a Centennial School hallway in this photo from March 2003 on a tour of the building. Under the facility master plan, Centennial would be closed and its students moved to another school. Because of Centennial's proximity to Lawrence High School, Weseman envisioned the elementary school being used for special LHS activities.

Here's a breakdown of other trailer-replacement projects:

  • $898,000 at Sunset Hill for two regular classrooms, as well as art and music classrooms.
  • $657,000 at Broken Arrow for two special-education and one art classroom.
  • $580,000 at Hillcrest for one music and two special-education classrooms.
  • Enrollment in Lawrence's center-city neighborhood elementary
schools like Centennial, Schwegler and New York, shown here, has
been on a decline as it has increased in schools on the city's
fringe. Pictured at the New York School playground in this file
photo are, from left, Jonathan Luna, 10, Stephen Obiefule, 9,
Nathan Jalali, 8, Caleb Walker, 9, Nate Davis, 9, and Nolan
Whipple, 8.

    Enrollment in Lawrence's center-city neighborhood elementary schools like Centennial, Schwegler and New York, shown here, has been on a decline as it has increased in schools on the city's fringe. Pictured at the New York School playground in this file photo are, from left, Jonathan Luna, 10, Stephen Obiefule, 9, Nathan Jalali, 8, Caleb Walker, 9, Nate Davis, 9, and Nolan Whipple, 8.

  • $569,000 at Wakarusa Valley for one art and one music classroom.
  • $470,000 at Quail Run for two general special-education, one behaviorial disability and one music therapy classroom.
  • $378,000 at Kennedy for one special-education classroom.

Working late one day in his East Heights office, Johnson said debate about the bond had created great anxiety in the East Heights neighborhood.





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"The biggest struggle is the uncertainty," he said. "We're trying to plan."

As he does, Johnson has to consider three scenarios. The current board or the next board elected in April could vote to keep East Heights open indefinitely. Or East Heights could be closed after the bond issue passes, with students moved to New York. Or East Heights could be closed after the bond fails, with the students scattered among several schools.

Election Day, finally, will help bring clarity for East Heights' students, teachers and parents.

"We'll know something soon," Johnson said.

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