Archive for Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Debate ensues over LHS tower plan

April 25, 2006


On paper, it's a lighted tower that'll mark the new entrance to the gym at Lawrence High School. It'll also house a ticket office.

It's expected to cost $37,400 - a minuscule portion of the $54 million bond issue approved by voters in 2004.

In the scheme of things, that's not a lot of money. But on Monday, the tower became the focal point of an often-impassioned debate over the differences between monkey business and taking care of business.

Board president Leonard Ortiz fired the first shot, saying he opposed adding the tower to the list of construction projects proposed for Lawrence High School because it appeared to be more about aesthetics than necessity.

"When we asked voters to support the bond issue," he said, "we didn't talk towers."

Ortiz was upset because the low bid for the construction projects at LHS and Free State High School - $3.253 million - was $208,000 over budget.

Plans for adding 1,200 square feet to the media room and storage space at LHS had already pushed the projected deficit to almost $360,000. Adding the tower pushed it to $397,000.

Voters would understand the need for additional space, he said, but tacking on the tower bordered on dishonesty.

"I feel uncomfortable about this," Ortiz said, later wondering aloud whether the tower was fueled by an "undercurrent of pork-barrel politics" and an unspoken effort to keep LHS tit-for-tat with construction at Free State High School.

But board member Sue Morgan argued that the bond issue included reconfiguring the gym entrance at LHS. The tower, she said, was part of the entrance.

Also, she said, bids on the projects at Central, West, South and Southwest junior highs and at Broken Arrow elementary had come in $1.5 million under budget.

This $1.5 million, she said, could easily and responsibly be used to pay for the tower.

Ortiz, however, wondered aloud if the voters would prefer the board to reduce the district's debt.

James Hilliard, a former board member who helped promote the bond issue, said he was "astounded" by the proposed tower. He warned that if the tower remained in the plan, many voters would feel like the board had "pulled the wool over their eyes."

The board, he said, should have known about the tower and included it in the bond issue.

But for the board to have known about the tower, Morgan argued, if would have had to have sorted through the architectural details before the bond issues passed.

It's illogical, she said, to pay an architect hundreds of thousands of dollars to generate those details until after the bond issue had passed.

On the first of three votes, board members Craig Grant, John Mitchell and Rich Minder sided with Ortiz, scuttling the tower.

But on a second vote - after board member Cindy Yulich called the vote "very unfortunate," and board member Linda Robinson reminded the group that a study committee made up of LHS parents and staff had heartily endorsed the tower - Minder changed his vote.

For much of the debate, Minder had said he struggled with where to draw the line between a project's practicality and sheer aesthetics.

On a third vote, Ortiz was the lone dissenter. The tower and the additional storage space were included in the bid, which was awarded to B.A. Green Construction Co.

Ortiz thanked the board for a civil and well-reasoned debate.

Minutes later, the district's bonding company, George K. Baum & Co., announced they had come up with a plan to consolidate and refinance some of the district's debt, resulting in a $1.1 million savings.

The plan will be discussed during the board's May 22 meeting.

Other district happenings:

¢ Lisa Clipsham has been named new assistant principal at Central Junior High, beginning in 2006-07.

Clipsham taught art at Central from 1997 to 2005. She took a sabbatical this year to complete her master's degree at Baker University.

¢ Central Junior High assistant principal Brian McCaffrey has been chosen to lead Broken Arrow School upon the June retirement of that school's current principal, Larry Bakerink.

McCaffrey is completing his seventh year as assistant principal at Central.

¢ Adela Solis, a fourth-grade teacher at Cordley School, has been elected president of the Lawrence Education Association. Her predecessor, Sam Rabiola, chose not to seek re-election.

David Reber, a science teacher at Free State High School, was elected vice president.


cowboy 11 years, 12 months ago

Why not spend some money on a frigging parking lot for LHS , that problem has only been there for 20 YEARS !

Moderateguy 11 years, 12 months ago

This article completely misses the point. The "tower" has been in the design from the beginning. The board has had numerous presentations and opportunities to voice their objections. To wait until the bid is ready to be approved is nothing more than political grandstanding and frankly disgusting. If Oritz didn't understand the design until now, he either hasn't been paying attention, or is an idiot.

dazedandconfuzed 11 years, 11 months ago

Normal people with normal jobs don't have the luxury of blowing their budget year after year and still maintaining their jobs. Maybe with more board members looking out for the community and making rational decisions (like Mr. Ortiz) our school district might start moving forward!

Godot 11 years, 11 months ago

Yulich's comment that it would be ridiculous to hire an architect to draw up plans so that we would know what we were voting on before the bond issue was passed is exactly why I voted NO. This is playing out just like I thought it would. The school board played on emotions, and painted a picture of abject need for repairs and new consruction, and pulled a figure out where. Now they are approving expenditure of nearly $40,000 at LHS that has nothing to do with student comfort or necessity, even though the project is already over budget.

New spending for bricks and mortar in USD 497? NO, NO, NO, NO.

citizenatlarge 11 years, 11 months ago

Moderateguy hits the nail on the head. This has been discussed for months.

As for architect fees, do you honestly believe that the district should spend 6 figures on architects fees before a bond issue is approved? Then if the bond fails, the plans sit in a drawer and the funds were spent for nothing?

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