One or two elementary schools would close next year, and another four would be consolidated into two new or expanded schools by 2016, under the latest vision from members of a task force studying the future of Lawrence’s elementary schools.
Nineteen members of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force spent more than three hours Monday night condensing their consensus on potential recommendations for closing, renovating, expanding and building elementary schools.
They settled on two scenarios to study further before making recommendations to the Lawrence school board by the end of February:
- Close either one or two of three schools next year: Cordley, Pinckney or Wakarusa Valley.
- Within three to five years, consolidate New York and Kennedy into a single school, either at one of the school sites or at a different one, such as land that is home to the former East Heights School, and consolidate Hillcrest and Sunset Hill schools, likely into a new or expanded building at one of the two existing sites.
All of the possibilities would mean changes to enrollments, boundaries and other matters, and that’s why district officials will be crunching numbers up until the task force’s next meeting: 5:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.
“It’s going to be painful,” said Brad Finkeldei, a task force member who helped craft the scenarios. “The question is, will it be too painful?”
Much of the Monday’s discussions focused on the consolidation possibilities, as members emphasized the importance of investing in schools in eastern Lawrence while acknowledging educational, social and political realities.
“Significant reinvestment on the east side needs to be part of that plan,” said Erika Dvorske, a member of the task force.
Rich Minder, school board president and co-chairman of the task force, said he could foresee a new school being built at the East Heights site, with New York then converted into a new “dual language” school that would provide an option for expanding English as a Second Language education.
Such consolidation plans — including the one for Hillcrest and Sunset Hill — would require the district borrowing money through community passage of a bond issue, one that likely would include upgrades for elementary schools throughout the district.
“That requires a big commitment on the part of the whole community,” Minder said, “and I think we’re up for it.”
The task force’s goal remains to align elementary schools with the community’s vision for education, and all within financial realities. With that in mind, task force members agreed to seek more information about the potential for closing either one or two schools next year.
They agreed to seek information regarding expected cost savings, enrollment shifts and other issues regarding three candidates for closure:
- Cordley, 1837 Vt., which a task force report describes as having “significant ADA access challenges” and the potential for disruptive renovations, depending on how work could be staged.
- Pinckney, 810 W. Sixth St., has a relatively large number of small classrooms and is located on the smallest site in the district, both “creating special challenges to increasing enrollment and expanding classroom square footage,” according to the report.
- Wakarusa Valley, 1104 E. 1100 Road, just southeast of Clinton Lake, has the fewest students in the district — district officials forecast that the school would have 155 students for next year, with capacity for another 164 more. Displaced students could face increased transportation time to other schools, according to the report.