As representatives from three schools targeted for potential consolidation pointed out the strengths of their school’s programs, advisability of their locations and community strengths of their programs — all with an eye toward justifying each school’s very survival — Dawn Shew wasn’t having any of it.
Go ahead and close our school, she said. Consolidate. Build anew. Add students. Bolster programs.
With the district looking for help choosing which schools to close and refinement of projects to propose in a future bond issue, the representative from Kennedy School wasn’t about to let a good opportunity go to waste.
“We feel like if consolidation’s going to happen, pick us,” Shew said Monday night, outlining plans that would combine Kennedy and New York schools in a new, larger building at or near the former East Heights School, 1430 Haskell Ave. “Let it be us. Let us have a new facility that’s top of the line, state of the art technology, nice new playgrounds. …
“We would rather see that opportunity come to fruition than miss out.”
Kennedy’s plan was among four proposals discussed during Monday night’s meeting of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group, an advisory panel established by the Lawrence school board to devise a plan for cut a list of six schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — down to three or four within the next two years.
Monday night’s discussion reviewed proposals forwarded by Hillcrest, Kennedy, Pinckney and Sunset Hill representatives. During the working group’s next meeting, Dec. 19, group members plan to discuss separate scenarios to be proposed during the coming week by
representatives from Cordley and New York schools.
The working group’s recommendations are due to the school board by the end of January. Board members are responsible for making decisions about which schools to consolidate, which projects to include in a bond issue and which boundaries to adjust, as necessary.
Monday night, members of the working group didn’t make any decisions about any particular plan, other than to explore representatives’ reasoning behind some of the suggestions.
Among topics and issues discussed Monday night:
• Hillcrest representatives explained that their school could be expanded to become a three-section school — that’s three classes at each grade level — on the existing site at 1045 Hilltop Drive, an area others previously have described as too small. “It’s ample. It’s adequate. It’s level,” said Dennis Hill, a Hilltop representative. Added Leslie Newman, another Hilltop representative, who noted that an architect who has a student at Hilltop had helped draw up a possible new floor plan, for a project that could be completed in 15 months: “We’re excited. This is possible. This is doable on our site.” Hillcrest representatives originally specified, in their written proposal, that additional students would come from Sunset Hill. Monday night, Newman told group members that in addition to Sunset Hill, "we have to look at the other schools we share borders with as well." Among others, the school shares borders with Cordley and Pinckney.
• Kennedy representatives would favor closing Hillcrest and having those students move to an expanded Sunset Hill. A new building combining Kennedy and New York, they say, would be best suited for property at the southeast corner of 15th Street and Haskell Avenue, on property currently owned by the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, the city of Lawrence and some private property owners — at least one of whom has stated, unequivocally, that he doesn’t intend to sell his home or his 5 acres of land to the district. “That’s not our job, thankfully,” Shew said, of the working group’s role in proposing plans, not acting upon them. “Maybe he would enjoy having a school built all around him, like a loving embrace? I don’t know.”
• Sunset Hill representatives envision expanding their school on their 9-acre site, which is adjacent to West Middle School. “This is not a time or environment to build an entirely new facility,” said Daisy Wakefield, a Sunset Hill representative. Sunset Hill would welcome students from Hillcrest, while Hillcrest would remain open and take in students from Pinckney, which would close largely because of its inability to handle expansion at its own site.
• Pinckney representatives suggest expanding Sunset Hill and closing Hillcrest, which could become a site for early-childhood or Boys and Girls Club programs in part because of the presence of the Ryan Gray Playground for All Children. Kennedy and New York would combine in a new two-story building at the former East Heights site, given the lot’s relatively small size.
Each proposal brought up questions and concerns, ones certain to be explored in the coming weeks.
About the only idea that drew universal support came at the end of the discussion, after nearly two hours of exploring ideas and concepts and boundary issues and programming needs and other topics.
“Maybe we should just keep our own schools open,” said Mike Myers, a representative from New York School.