The Lawrence school district has paid $1.73 million to purchase a prime piece of property that would be prominent along the proposed route of the South Lawrence Trafficway.
At their Oct. 26 meeting, school board members approved the purchase of 76 acres of farm and pasture ground southeast of Lawrence. The property, near the intersection of East 1750 and North 1300 roads, would be just west of where the South Lawrence Trafficway would connect with the existing Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence.
School district leaders said they did not have a firm plan for the property, but said it could be used for a future school site or a new outdoor campus and wellness center that is gaining momentum with Bill Self’s Assists Foundation and also with a private board led by Lawrence businessman John McGrew.
“The answer of what we’re going to do with it right now is nothing because we have no money for it,” school board member Scott Morgan said of the land.
Instead, Morgan said the purchase came after the previous school board instructed staff members to look for land opportunities south of Lawrence because that is where the largest amount of undeveloped land in the district is located.
“I don’t think people realize how much of the school district is south of the Wakarusa River,” Morgan said. “We’re not growing much now, but I think there is a pretty good chance that we’ll grow again.”
District leaders said they were sensitive to concerns about spending money on property at the same time that some school board members — including Morgan — have suggested the district may need to consider closing schools in the future.
Frank Harwood, chief operations officer for the district, said the money the school district used for the purchase came from the district’s capital outlay fund. By state law, that money can’t be used for teacher salaries or other operational expenses.
“That pot of money can’t be used to pay for running schools that we would be looking to close,” Harwood said. “If we could have used that money on general fund expenses, we wouldn’t have made this purchase.”
Harwood and Morgan also said it was proper for the district to be considering future school sites at the same time that it may have to close some existing schools. Morgan said the district was acting responsibly by buying property ahead of development, and looking forward to the day that new areas of town will need to be served by schools.
“If you are buying land the day you need to build something, you have done something wrong because then everybody knows you need it and the price will be high,” Morgan said. “If we take a little heat now for this decision, it will be well worth it in terms of the gift that we will have given to some future school board. It is something that will help future school boards immensely.”
Harwood also believes the purchase represents little risk to the district. He said if the district discovers that the site is not well-suited for its purposes, it is likely that the property will draw heavy interest from developers because of its location.
At 76 acres, the site is also large enough that part of the property could be used for a school and the balance could be sold for a profit. An elementary school, for example, generally needs about 25 acres.
The school district purchased the property from P.D.O. Investors, a Lawrence-based group led by Steve Glass, the former owner of LRM Industries.