Live blogging: Commissioners pass construction projects


11:06 There are a few more items left on the agenda, but the live-blogging is closing up shop. Thanks for tuning in tonight.

11:01 All the measure pass. Room empties quickly.

10:59 Hack motions to put stadium 75 feet away from homes, while approving measure. LHS construction passes 4-1, with Highberger voting no.

Centennial construction projects pass 5-0.

FSHS construction projects passes 5-0.

10:50 More talking, no decisions. Need to take a quick break from blogging to start writing this story…

10:42 Discussions on what the impact would be if the plan were changed to move the stadium away from homes. Back and forth. Hack: We shouldn’t be designing a football stadium tonight.

10:33 Dever’s got a problem with having two stadiums. Says no one wants to be Johnson County, but everyone is pointing to Johnson County as a model.

If we’re going to do something, we need to reduce that impact as much as possible. We can’t put this thing in the back of somebody’s back yard.

he’s willing to move forward, pending discussions with the school district about moving some of the facilities further from homes.

10:30 Dever: This a situation where a lot of good can come out of these projects.

The improvements that are going to be made, if these projects are completed, are going to have a positive effect on the neighbors on Alabama Street. The value of doing this work is beyond our scope. Our job is to determine if this is an appropriate use.

Parking issue will be solved.

There’s an investment in the future of our community that needs to be made. This is one part of our community that deserves more attention. He sees this as an investment in the schools, not an effort to kill the neighborhood.

10:25: Amyx: With a stadium, how do we take care of concerns? We’ve got to mitigate the problem.

Traffic flow in area is a big issue. Also parking concerns: Are we going to have enough parking on site to take care of crowd?

The thing that we have to decided whether or not it is appropriate that 58 feet from a property line, there is this stadium. How do we protect those people that back up to that? How are going to take care of that?

Amyx would like to see this done ultimately.

10:24 Highberger supports FSHS/Centennial construction, but not LHS

10:21 Commissioner Highberger: Equity issue is crucial. Not convinced equity issue at two schools necessitates two stadiums. LHS stadium doesn’t meet code.

I really do believe a stadium at that spot would be negative for the neighborhood.

He’s ready to support this, in absence of the stadium.

10:19 This is a socio-economic issue. Kids whose parents can’t afford to get them to practice suffer.

These stadiums — and a single stadium at FSHS — would cure inequity.

We need to move forward with these proposals. More conversations needed about trees, lights, usage.

10:13 Commissioner Hack: Traffic will be similar to areas near KU on game day. “Not pleasant.”

I do believe that part of my decision-making has to do with some of the concerns that the neighbors have.

The noise, drainage, lighting are all issues, but she believes Matt Bond did a very good job of explaining how the plan will improve drainage in neighborhood. But the thing she keeps coming back to is the equity issue. If this were a special use permit for performing arts, I know this community would have an enormous group of people arguing for it. Athletics is another extracurricular activity that is critical to young people. when we don’t ahve equitable facilities that is just simply wrong. That is not something that Lawrence, Kansas, can have.

10:11 Chestnut: Haskell is not a venue we should play in anymore. Cites all the water last week. It’s time to move on.

He said he hopes one day they’ll look at a district stadium. This is a very financially efficient situation.

10:09 It comes down to what we think is best for the health, safety, welfare of public. It’s a muddy area. But Chestnut thinks it’s best to move forward.

10:05 Chestnut: These uses are within the scope of the property owner (the district). I still think there are some issues that — I am in favor of moving forward — there are some unanswered questions. I am going to recommend that we talk about a few conditions that need to be resolved during this process. There needs to be an agreement between school district and city about the maximum uses of the fields.

10:03 Commissioner Chestnut: The fact is comments regarding equity, financial wherewithal, district stadium…are not in the jurisdiction of this body. It’s all about code/zoning. Commission has not judgment on the other things.

9:59 Alstrom: A fantasy that trees will help filer noise. Again asks to defer judgment. That’s the last of the public comment, after an hour and a half. A few more items on the agenda.

9:56 Alstrom: I’m begging you listen. Defer or stop this now until the district’s listens to the neighborhood.

9:53 Sven Alstrom, an outspoken opponent is up. He’s the last public commentator.

Commissioners must step above planning memo that has holes in it. We want togetherness in the neighborhood.

He’s got some photos of drainage problems from his house. The photos are up on the screen with the project’s budget, which has nothing on it for drainage.

9:48 LHS principal Steve Nilhas: Says commission should look at the greater good, and how to mitigate neighbors’ concerns.

We have two fine high schools in this city, but they’re not being treated equally. He’s talking about how he tells junior high students about the parking situation at LHS…a warning of sorts. FSHS doesn’t have that problem. It’s an equity issue. Do we have two high schools or not? Is it fair that students from one high school have to drive two, three, four, five miles to go to practice?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s a very good situation: Nilhas.

9:45 School board VP Scott Morgan, speaking on behalf of himself, not the board.

This process began a while ago, so we didn’t’ have the “nice” high school (FSHS) and the “old” high school (LHS). He says the city commission’s opinion will not be the last word…it’s the school board’s decision in the end. Says the board has looked at proposal in more detail than the commission has. “I just wanted to put it back into context.”

9:40 Jean Kline, neighbor: Safety is a non-issue; safety is an issue whenever there are young drivers. This be a non-issue if theater were involved. Very concerned about AstroTurf…needs unbiased info from people who are not salesmen. Needs info on runoff; what happens to rubber and chemicals involved in turf, and it’s impact on water and her garden. This is not about equity, this is about inequity of a neighborhood. If you want to kill a neighborhood, this is the way to do it. This is about status, it’s about parents who want to compete with Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley. We’re not Blue Valley.

9:37 Angry Centennial neighbor: School board has been like a Cookie Monster (I think I heard that right). Whenever they want something, they go after it…shouting about closing down Centennial School. She think the school district is ruthless. Lawrence is a great city, and Centennial is a great neighborhood (she’s lived there for 27 years), but community needs to work together.

As a parent, as a resident, I pay the tax. These issues are very important for my home (and community). The project would add too much stuff in a small space.

9:33 Jerry Schultz, president of Centennial Neighborhood Association: I don’t think we need to approve this plan in it’s totality. I don’t think the neighborhood has to be the only group that needs to contribute to this plan. There’s no real reason why we have to have two football stadium. Equity is not an issue in this case. He’s talking about football, in particular.

The neighborhood is not opposed to every aspect of this plan. There are some solutions to this problem. If the football stadium issue can be resolved, you’ll solve a lot of problems.

9:30 LHS parent: Safety is paramount. Not only on the playing field. There’s a risk when kids are traveling to and from events. It gets kids off the surrounding streets, and gets them parking on campus. There’s been a lot of talk of ‘is there adequate parking for football games,’ but what about when kids have to cross 19th and Louisiana streets before and after school? And what about in the dark after games, practice, etc?

9:27 Wagner: This is all for the kids. This is making the best of a bad situation. This has been 20 years in the making.

9:25 Brian Wagner, an LHS baseball parent, says this project is important for the equity of the schools. He’s spoken at numerous meetings in the past.

“This is an embarrassment for a town of this size.”

“When you’re talking about a football field, you’re talking about five nights. Five nights.”

9:20 Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods lists city codes for challenging plans like the district’s. Opponents of the plan nodding enthusiastically.

9:14 Shelley Bock, who referees soccer, is up at the mic. I’ll apologize in advance for any misspellings of speakers’ names. I can only make my best guess.

The soccer fields in Lawrence are “notoriously bad.” He said the coach at Olathe South anticipates injuries when they play here.

New turf is a necessity. Keeping kids on campus will decrease injuries, car accidents.

“I think it’s important for the community to realize that the facilities in Lawrence are the poorest in the Sunflower League, in this area. Very few fields in the area are worse.” Worries that Lawrence schools will be excluded from activities involving Johnson County schools.

“We are on the cusp of achievement adequate facilities for sports participation,” he says, adding he’s wanted such improvements for 20 years.

9:13 Bill Newsome says this type of investment is long overdue. Impacts quality of life, business investment. Big picture is “compelling.” Short and sweet. He says the level of professional consultation has made the measures ready to be passed.

9:10 She talks about where funding may come from. “But the people are the ones who are going to pay for this. The taxpayers are the ones who pay into the school district” and other public entities.

“The students go off-site every noon, going down to 23rd Street to get lunch…We’re not concerned about the safety of those students who are zooming out of the high school. Where’s the disconnect?” In terms of going to lunch on 23rd Street vs. going to play or practice off-site. The district says keeping athletes on campus will be good for student safety.

Says KU students “will love all this extra parking.”

9:09 Betty Alderson is talking about how Shawnee Mission schools share facilities. That’s where LHS played last week’s football game. Calls this a stop-gap measure until a single facility is built.

9:02 Alec Joyce: A FSHS student is up at the mic. “By approving this plan, the whole entire school community will prosper.”

Notes last Friday’s football postponement, which was because the games would have torn up the Haskell field. With new turf, that wouldn’t happen. He says it would unite the school facilities.

A passionate speech to defend the projects by a concerned student.

“The public school athletics fields have been a staple” and both schools deserve stadiums.

Some clarification: Both schools will have a football stadium, a dedicated soccer field, baseball and softball fields, as well as areas for track and field events.

8:53 A neighbor recalls a story about a zen master, who tells his students not to drink tea the zen master gave them. He’s slapping a rolled up piece of paper against his hands. It’s loud. Long story short, this proposal is a problem.

“One of the questions that hasn’t been asked in this process…is why does this community need two identical football stadiums for five or six events a year?”

8:49 Hannah Brittan, a neighbor, steps to the mic. The proposal to add two football stadiums — at LHS and FSHS — is not smart. An alternative choice for commissioners: Vote down proposal, and ask school distict to consider one sports facility, like in Olathe, Topeka and Blue Valley. She prefers one stadium at FSHS. She’s talked to officials in Salina, which has one city stadium, who said there isn’t an inequity between schools with one complex. Salina officials said it would be fiscally irresponsible to build two stadiums for the two schools.

8:47 Ricando predicts homeowners will move, and KU students will move in, turning Centennial neighborhood into “a student ghetto.” An economic and environmental disaster in the making, a boondoggle. He says the district has thwarted public discussion of the projects.

8:45 Neighbor Roger Ricando is speaking. Asks how district can build the project without knowing how much it will cost. Says district will move football games back to Haskell or Memorial stadiums if more than 4,000 tickets are sold. Predicts crime to rise with more people coming to games, as people in stadium “case” homes.

8:42 In 40 years as a lawyer, he knows how to read a code…and this project does not meet the code. Too few parking spots, too close to homes, lights are too tall. “Let’s give it a little more study,” he says. Discussion has been too fast, bouncing from planning commission to city commission very quickly. Predicts project won’t get started this year.

“We’re (not) asking you to deny it. We’re asking you to perfect the proejct.”

8:38 “Zoning is not a competitive sport,” says Price Banks, a lawyer who represents the Centennial Neighborhood Association. He says neighbors believe there should be equity between schools. He says his children learned in Lawrence schools to 1) respect your neighbors and 2) obey the rules. The district hasn’t done this, he says.

Neighbors need more information on how drainage will work, he says. People don’t look for homes near lights, noise, litter, or a 35-foot wall outside their front door.

Nobody in neighborhood wants to stop the project…they want it to work for everyone.

Banks has bright lights shining into his home, so he understands why neighbors are concerned.

8:34 Doug Gaston, parent of current and former LHS athletes, is speaking in favor of the project. Project will benefit athletes and neighborhood, by providing parking and new facilities.

8:33 Harper hopes city will put together a task force of neighbors and district officials to further discuss plans and goals for usage. “This is going to be a great place, and there are going to be a lot of people who want to participate on the fields here. So let’s corral that now, instead of corralling it later when it’s crazy.”

He says the district should pick up trash after games on Saturdays.

8:31 After a short break, we’re back. Tom Harper, neighborhood resident, says this is “painful.” Calls the neighborhood “fragile,” calls the construction an “intrusion.” District says property values will increase. Harper says they will decrease, and fewer people will buy homes; they’ll become rentals.

8:11 District is done for now. Now it’s time for public comment. This should be interesting. Dever is setting ground rules. Public comment will last for 90 minutes, then a break, then more if necessary. They’ve got a five-minute time limit.

8:10 Lots of mic feedback. Sounds like Lollapalooza. People in lobby are complaining. Ironic that they’re talking about sound levels.

8:04 Chestnut asks about parking at Virtual School site. “What is the usage of that?” Who will park there?

Bracciano: That’s a management issue. LHS students, plus Johnson County Community College students park there (JCCC has courses at the school). He anticipates most of those spots being available for LHS students.

Amyx asks if parking at LHS will be adequate for students/faculty/staff. LHS assistant principal says they will be adequate for anyone who needs to park there. He doesn’t think they’ll need parking along 21st Street.

Sue Hack is asking about noise pollution. Steve Grant, who is formerly FSHS assistant A.D., now a salesman for DaKtronics, a scoreboard company. They did a sound study at both schools. Won’t say there won’t be any noise coming out of high school…there’s noise now as it is.

Grant: It all has to do with decibel levels. Allen Fieldhouse is 110 db. Engineers think both sites will have noise-level in mid-90s, if there’s a packed house. He says that’s half as loud as the fieldhouse. Ideal sound level is about 100. At LHS, with a full house, engineers would set the sound level at 94, 95 db. As you move away from the scorebaord, sound decreases. So if you’re at the 20-year line, sound is in mid-80s. It’s only for two or three hours a night, five times a year.

7:55 Commissioner Mike Amyx asks about drainage. The drainage will take in and not have any effect on improvements made in late 80s? Matt Bond, the city’s water engineer, says that’s correct.

Crowd is listening intently. There are probably 100 people sitting in the lobby of City Hall.

7:48 Now the city leads a discussion of the code: Neighbors want a 75-foot setback from their property near LHS. Only about 58 is in the plan right now. But LHS plans are within code. City staff accepted alternative compliance for a buffer yard: a double row of deciduous trees. The district will put in more than they would normally.

Parking: Parking at LHS will be sufficient, but city needs more documentation for plans for game day parking. City staff finds plans compliant.

Commissioner Rob Chestnut: “Am I imaging things?” Thought setback for softball fields was more than district says tonight. It’s now 55 feet between structure and property line.

Bracciano: In terms of the lighting, code calls for 60-foot maximum for lighting. They’re putting the most neighbor/user-friendly light system in. But…it doesn’t meet the code, though it has this directed light that does not bleed into neighborhood. It’ll cost district and taxpayers more to have different lights.

7:46 Free State: The forgotten plan. Now they’re going over the FSHS plan, which as been overshadowed by the dispute over the LHS plans. Plans provide relief for city, says Bracciano.

And within a minute, the FSHS proposal has wrapped up. That was quick.

7:44 “Parking has always been a problem at Lawrence High School.”

Only seniors park there. “This is the first parking plan I have seen that almost doubles the amount of spaces we have for Lawrence High students to get them out of the neighborhood,” Bracciano said. New tennis courts, plus more parking, plus more drainge: “All the parts of this plan really benefits everybody.”

7:42 Water puddles at Louisiana Street will be funneled through new storm sewers.

“If we can fix things while we’re there to take care of them, that’s what we’re going to do,” said Bracciano. Part of the project will be to help drainage situation. It’s not required, but the district wants to help eliminate that issue.

7:40 Some issues with city, parks and rec remain: Tennis courts are a shared facility, and parks and rec maintains courts. It’s important to maintain relationship with regards to tennis facility.

7:37 Tennis courts will be removed for parking. Soccer field will be east-west, though preferred is north-south. They’ll put up temporary bleachers, so soccer and softball can share.

Trees will be put up between LHS and neighbors, so people don’t cut through neighbors’ property.

7:30 Tom Bracciano, facilities director, steps up to the mic. “I think an important piece of this is the level of cooperation between the school district and department of parks and recreation,” he said. District has cooperated with parks and rec in the past for use of facilities.

LHS football stadium would be 58.7 feet from private property lines.

Drainage problems: They’d put an underground storm sewer in to take water away from stadium. AstroTurf has two inches of plastic and granular materials, plus eight inches of gravel beneath it, so water goes into drain. There’s no runoff. Now water has no place to go. Matt Bond, city water engineer, is happy with the project, even though the water won’t necessarily be drained quickly. But it’ll get to the sewer eventually.

A swale will help drainage problems.

7:28 District ID’d only five football home games when lights will be on past 10 p.m. “At this point, we feel like the school district is trying to be a good neighbor,” she said. They’re trying to mitigate problems, while getting the most bang for their buck. Students are the future, and we need to do what we can to support them. District is committed to provide safe, equitable facilities.

7:25 Rodriguez: Most of the year will have no events at these facilities. Most of home games end before daylight, so there’s no need for lights. By the way, Superintendent Randy Weseman told me that the district does not want outside groups using the proposed facilities. So no tournament baseball, soccer, etc, outside of district events. That would make it easier on the turf.

Rodriguez: Neighbors suggestions have been incorporated, including fencing, sidewalks, storm sewers, parking. Lighting for project is targeted lighting: Directed onto field, not neighborhoods. Sound system will be directed away from neighbors. Neighbors suggested a shuttle from Broken Arrow and South for big games. “There is merit in this idea, and we plan to utilize this suggestion,” Rodriguez said.

“If you were to visit either high school on any day of the week, there is a lot of activity. There is already a lot of noise…and that will continue,” she said, citing bands, buses, practice.

7:20 Quotes FSHS principal Ed West, who talked about two students who died en route to sports practice at a past school. She says new facilities will prevent injury because of better playing surfaces. Lack of lighting limits scheduling. Artificial turf allows for more extensive use of fields, while allowing district to eliminate fertilizer and pesticide runoff, helping environment. Right now district pays $80,000 to use facilities like Haskell, as well as transporting students to and from events. Next five years district would save $400,000. They’d also save expenses of maintaining fields, which will help pay for proposal

7:17 Rodriguez: participation in high school activities is vital; research shows kids in activiies have better grades, graduation rates; sports and fine arts promote citizenship and sportsmanship, and facilitate physical and emotional development of American’s youth.

“There is a need to address the outdoor inequity” of facilities for both schools, and boys and girls sports. She says FSHS facilities are superior to those at LHS. Students’ socio-economic status can prevent kids from participating, going to and from events.

“This proposal improves safety for students,” she says, because kids will stay on campus.

7:16 Patterson concludes his brief presentation. Mary Rodriguez, the district’s chief operation officer, is signing in and set to present the district’s plan.

7:10 Here we go. Paul Patterson, a city planner, is giving a presentation about the school district’s proposal. He’s showing aerial views of LHS. Football field would move over about 50 feet, and bleachers on east and west side would be added. He says the tennis courts are at the end of their lifetime; they’d be replaced by 328 parking spaces. At Centennial Elementary, home of the Virtual School, they’d add eight new tennis courts and a baseball field at the south end of the property, as well as more parking. They’d increase from 35 to 147 parking spaces.

At Free State, Patterson talks about the 74 acres available at the site. There are three existing ball fields, as well as soccer and football fields. There are 906 parking spaces there now; 1210 parking spaces would exist after construction.

7:03 Overflow crowd, but there’s still room inside the commission chambers. Several familiar characters in the Centennial v. school district fight, ranging from school district officials, Centennial neighbors and LHS parents.

6:39 p.m. Meeting gets underway. Mayor Mike Dever declares this week POW/MIA Recognition Week. Congress mandated this, and the city complies. This Friday, Sept. 19, is POW/MIA Recognition Day. Also, Sept. 17 – 23 is Constitution Week, falling on the 221st anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution.

Tuesday’s City Commission meeting pits the Lawrence school district against neighbors of Lawrence High School who oppose construction of new athletic facilities at the school. Proposed fields at Free State High School hinge on the commissioners’ decision.

Residents of the Centennial Neighborhood say the fields – football, baseball, softball and soccer fields, as well as tennis courts – will disrupt the neighborhood by increasing traffic, spouting noise from play-by-play announcers, shining stadium lights and by hurting the environment by installing AstroTurf.

The district says those concerns will be mitigated by height-regulated lights, loudspeakers that will keep noise within the football stadium and improved drainage systems beneath the turf. School officials say the new turf will slash maintenance costs, and that students will be safer by staying on campus, rather than driving to Haskell Stadium for football games.

Expect to hear complaints about the question of how the fields will be funded – something the district has not yet nailed down.

Parents from both high schools are mobilizing to support the fields. Lawrence High parents say it’s a matter of pride and safety to have improved athletic facilities. Free State parents worry that fields at that school won’t be built if the commission shoots down the proposal.

The Centennial Neighborhood Association plans to be out in force and will try to convince commissioners that the district’s plan is flawed. Some neighbors have complained that the district pulled a double-switch at last month’s Planning Commission meeting, where district representatives got the last word on the proposal; neighbors say the district changed some aspects of the plan, without their knowledge, and complain that they were not able to rebut those claims.

I’ll be live-blogging the meeting, so check back here for the play-by-play. The meeting begins at 6:35 p.m. and includes other matters, such as a proposed green burial plot at Oak Hill Cemetery.

The school district’s proposal is listed third in the regular agenda, and it should be on the table about 7 p.m.

If you have questions about the proposal, feel free to list them in the comments section, or e-mail me.