An anonymous donor is ready to hand over a check to the Lawrence school district, but only if the school board agrees to construct a multiuse facility on the south end of the Free State High football field.
As part of the outdoor athletic facilities upgrade, the board allocated $400,000 per high school for restrooms, concessions and storage. The donation would pay the amount over the already approved funds if the plan included a field-level locker room for the Firebirds.
“My initial reaction when I first heard about it was one of concern about the equity,” said school board president Scott Morgan. “We get all this stuff done, and now we’re going to throw it out of whack again.”
However, the board also approved a $250,000 locker room renovation for Lawrence High’s West Gym. The lockers will be used for Friday night games and are much closer to the field. Morgan said Free State High was planning to make half-time longer so teams could get to the lockers located inside the school and back again.
“We were going to make it work, but this stepped in,” said Morgan. “We’re doing it at Lawrence High. It’d be nice to have some similar facility that could be used at Free State.”
Although the board has yet to approve accepting the donation for the facility, members did want the administration to look into what the deal would entail.
District chief operations officer Frank Harwood said the administration had asked for construction bids. The district will then go back to the donor to see what can be accomplished with what the giver is willing to spend.
“In talking with (Free State Principal) Ed West, that was going to need to be a consideration in the future,” said Harwood. “This donation could help us take care of the problem we knew we were going to have at some point.”
The facility could also include restrooms and concessions.
“There’s a lot of details to work out, a lot of other issues,” said Tom Bracciano, operations and facility planning division director. “Some of the restrooms actually could be, if not all of them, incorporated in that facility.”
Morgan said he didn’t want to encourage a bidding war between Free State and Lawrence High alumni, but there were some rumblings that some former Lions were looking to add to the outdoor facilities.
“There has been some talk already there about putting together some sort of plaza area,” said Morgan, which could include a type of arch representing Haskell Stadium, where the team played for many years. “That’s not very far along, I don’t think, but I think there are people who will step forward to do some of the things that we can’t afford to do that make it that much nicer.”
Now, the board will wait to hear the bids for the Free State field facility to see if members want to accept the donation and a contract to build the locker rooms. The donor also said the facility would have to be done by Sept. 15, the Firebirds’ first home game.
“I think anything’s possible,” said Bracciano, in reference to what would be a quick construction time. “Some people thought we had an extremely aggressive time frame on these (the fields).”
Although Bracciano noted the quick completion schedule, he also said the field was on schedule to be ready by Aug. 15.
“The restrooms ... will probably not be done,” he said. “We’ll have some portable restrooms. The restrooms and concessions won’t be completed, but they’ll be done shortly after.”
The district had to present its plan for the restrooms and concessions to the Centennial neighbors before they began construction on those elements at Lawrence High as part of a lawsuit settlement. The original plan included converting a maintenance building on the east side of the football field into a large restroom space, but spectators cannot be farther than 500 feet from restrooms.
“We’re looking at a couple outbuildings, instead of that one major facility,” said Bracciano.
The neighbors are also pleased with the idea of smaller facilities.
“I think it’s better for everybody. I think it’s better for the neighbors. I think it’s better for people with disabilities,” said neighbor Bob Tryanski. “It will service more people in more locations.”
But it could also add to the cost.
“Using the existing buildings saved us $100,000, $150,000,” said Bracciano. “Changing the plan a little bit, it could be more expensive. They do have some (prefabricated) units. We’ll just have to see what the prices come out to.”
Tryanski said it seemed the Centennial neighbors were happy with some things, including the potential of the drainage system, yet to be completed, but they still had some concerns.
“There’s some concerns about lights. There are some concerns about landscaping,” he said. “We have to see the process through and continue discussions as we move through the process.”
Morgan says he’s happy with the improvements at both high schools.
“It sounds pathetic, but I almost get teary eyed,” he said.
Meanwhile, Free State is waiting on the softball field to be finished. Work continues on soccer, baseball, tennis and parking at Lawrence High.