Four phases for projects
The projects at Lawrence High School, Free State High School and Lawrence Virtual School will be built in four phases. The district will seek further approval from the school board to begin each subsequent phase.
Construction of football, baseball, softball and soccer fields, band practice areas and tracks at both high schools. Also laying artificial turf, fencing and goalposts at LHS and Free State. Eight tennis courts would be added at the Virtual School, along with parking spots at all campuses.
Installing bleachers, sound systems and scoreboards.
Adding restrooms and concessions.
Purchasing replacement equipment, working on Free State parking lot and adding three additional tennis courts.
After months of planning, discussion and arguments from neighbors of Lawrence High School, the Lawrence school board Monday unanimously voted to approve the construction of athletic facilities at LHS and Free State High School, paving the way for two identical sports complexes at the city's high schools. The work will also involve property at the Lawrence Virtual School south of LHS, formerly Centennial School.
In a meeting that reprised much of what occurred at prior city commission and planning commission meetings, opponents of the projects pleaded with the school board to maintain the historic integrity of the Centennial neighborhood, and said the projects were designated under the wrong city development code.
School district officials repeated that the projects will improve student safety and bring aging Lawrence High up to par with Free State. Superintendent Randy Weseman noted that the LHS fields would allow the district to further meet Title IX requirements for female athletes.
Mary Rodriguez, the district's chief operations officer, and Kathy Johnson, finance director, said the project, which will be constructed in four phases, will cost $9.2 million. Those figures were still being massaged as late as Monday. The projects will be funded by a lease-purchase, where the district will issue certificates of participation to private investors to build the football, soccer, track, baseball and softball fields and tennis courts.
The district would pay about $1 million a year over 10 years. It will use $3.8 million left over from a 2005 bond to supplement the lease-purchase funds. School board President Craig Grant said the project would not require a tax raise.
"It's great for the students of Lawrence," Rodriguez said. "It's not just now; it's for the future."
Weseman said he was pleased that the projects finally got the go-ahead.
"To actually have it come to a point where we can begin to make the improvements to Lawrence High School and Free State High School feels good," he said. "What this allows us to do (with) a phased, organized fashion, it helps us with the bidding piece and the financing piece."
The first phase of the project includes building the playing fields at both schools.
Rodriguez said she was hopeful that some elements of the construction would begin as early as this week. Some neighbors, however, hinted recently that they would file a lawsuit to halt construction.
Sven Alstrom, an architect and Centennial neighborhood resident, said the school board didn't do enough to consider the concerns of neighbors, likening the situation to Wall Street companies bilking investors.
"We are shareholders and they don't listen to shareholders," he said after the meeting. "It's a shame that this has to go forward because the board acknowledges the problem of duplicate stadiums."
Board members asked about the possibility of erecting temporary bleachers instead of larger stadiums, to mitigate the unsightliness of an empty football stadium, as well as considering the possibility of a future citywide sports complex.
Grant concluded the meeting by noting that the district settled on three search firms as finalists in the district's hunt for a new superintendent. They will be identified today and will present themselves to the board next Monday.