Talk turns to third high school for city

Athletic facility discussions also under way

Free State High School, Lawrence. Some school board members have mentioned planning for a third high school as talks continue about outdoor high school athletic facilities.

A third Lawrence high school.

It might seem odd to mention it with the city’s two existing ones appearing to lose enrollment for the second year in a row.

But some school board members have mentioned planning for the concept as talks continue about outdoor high school athletic facilities.

“I don’t see it as a very short-term need, but I see it as an inevitable need,” board member Scott Morgan said. “A big thing we could do now as a gift to Lawrence folks when we need it is get pretty serious about buying land for it.”

Regarding athletic facilities, district administrators will soon begin talks with Haskell Indian Nations University leaders about improving Haskell Stadium, home to both high school football teams and Haskell.

Administrators will also soon bring back more options to the board about costs for improving facilities at the two high schools and also a district sports complex, which is just an idea at this point.

Board member Mary Loveland has said any facilities decisions should consider the future, including accommodating a possible third high school. She mentioned that investigating land for a future outdoor sports complex would be “a wise investment.”

Although they say it’s impossible to predict the future, Morgan and Loveland say they are thinking about 15 to 20 years into the future and that the district’s boundaries extend south of Lawrence, which administrators have said would likely be the site of a future high school if needed.

They also point to construction of the sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River, which could free up development.

Board member Rich Minder also said it’s difficult to predict if Lawrence could explode in growth again soon or stay level for several years, but he did support purchasing land as a precaution.

“I don’t think you have to choose between entirely not doing anything and being proactive,” he said.

Growth has leveled off in Lawrence recently, after the population jumped from 65,608 in 1990 to more than 88,000 in 2006.

According to the district’s head count Sept. 20, Free State High School has 1,206 students and Lawrence High School has 1,316. Included in that are 93 students who take high school classes through the Lawrence Virtual School who are assigned to either high school.

Those numbers are down from 1,236 at Free State last year and 1,339 at LHS.

After a 1994 bond issue, voters authorized the district to build Free State in northwest Lawrence. It opened in 1997 with 994 students its first year and 1,163 the next.

LHS dropped from 1,979 students the year before Free State opened to 1,215 in 1998-1999.

If a future need develops for a third high school, Minder said planning should not focus only on demographics but also the relationship between a school facility and students. With online learning becoming more popular, he said one day there might be less need for a giant, centralized school building.

“If teaching and learning gets changed in the future, then let’s not constrain ourselves by that old model,” he said.

Morgan said the public may get worried of talk today about a third high school because of enrollment numbers, but he said planning now could save money in the long run.

“Planning is a lot cheaper than letting the train run over you and then acting surprised that there was a train coming at you,” he said.