After hours of back and forth between supporters and detractors of the Lawrence school district's proposal to build new sports facilities at Lawrence High School, the City Commission voted to pass the plan, with several amendments to the district's proposal.
The school district once again laid out its plan, which would add fields for football, baseball, softball and soccer, as well as new tennis courts to be built at Centennial School just south of LHS. More parking spots would keep students safe because they wouldn't have to cross busy streets.
Mary Rodriguez, the district's chief operations officer, said a chief issue is the inequity of facilities at LHS and Free State High School.
"There is a need to address the outdoor inequity" of facilities for both schools, and boys and girls sports, she said.
A similar plan to upgrade facilities at Free State was also on the table and passed without much discussion.
The proposal for the LHS athletic fields was approved 4-1, with Commissioner Boog Highberger opposed. The proposals for Centennial School and Free State passed unanimously.
Rodriguez said the proposal would save money in the long run. Right now, she said, the district pays $80,000 to use facilities like Haskell Stadium, as well as transporting students to and from events. In the next five years the district would save at least $400,000. The plan to use artificial turf would also cut expenses for maintaining fields, which would help pay for the proposal.
Rodriguez also presented an event calendar, in an effort to appease neighbors' fears that many events would bring heavy traffic and blast noise and light into the area. The fields would be vacant for about seven months of the year.
Opponents of the project, primarily residents of the Centennial and University Place neighborhoods near LHS, said the school district hadn't sought enough input from neighbors. They say traffic will increase, noise and light pollution will blight the neighborhood, and they worry about the impact of the new facilities on water drainage.
"If you want to kill a neighborhood, this is the way to do it," said one neighbor.
The district agreed to move the football stadium 75 feet away from the homes of neighbors in order to comply with the city code. The initial plans had placed the football stadium only 55 feet away from homes.
While many in the audience, as well as Mayor Mike Dever, voiced concerns about building two separate football stadiums, rather than one district stadium, the proposal passed.
The plan now goes to the school board, which will vote on it Monday.
Commissioners agreed that the school district has a responsibility to be a good neighbor, thus asking the district to move the stadium back 20 feet from property lines. However, Commissioner Rob Chestnut said it was the commission's responsibility to ensure the district's plans are up to code.
"The fact is comments regarding equity, financial wherewithal, (the) district stadium ... are not in the jurisdiction of this body," he said.
Tom Bracciano, the district's division director of operations and facility planning, said the district wants to break ground on the football and soccer fields Oct. 9, and hopes to have the LHS baseball stadium complete by spring.