News and notes from around town:
• If another round of elementary school consolidation is in Lawrence’s future, here’s something to remember: Closed school buildings usually don’t remain empty buildings. A good example of that is the former Kaw Valley Elementary building at 1411 E. 1850 Road, just off of old Kansas Highway 10 between Lawrence and Eudora. If ever you thought that a building was destined to go dark and decay, it would have been that rural school that is surrounded mainly by corn and soybeans. But the school building — which closed in 1991 — has been home to Building Blocks preschool and daycare for a number of years. And now, the business is undertaking a major expansion. The school has connected and renovated several of the property’s outbuildings to make four new classrooms. That has allowed the business to grow its license from 69 students to 121 students. (I wonder how many students were there when it was an actual elementary school.)
“We were starting to get full out here,” said Erica Ritter, director of Building Blocks. “We’re unique in town because we’re close to a major business district (East Hills) and we’re also on the route for a lot of commuters.”
The center also is one of the few in town that offer infant care. The expansion increases the number of infants through pre-schoolers the business can accommodate. The center also runs programs for youth up to 12 years old through after school programs, summer camps and other programs that give parents a daycare option when school is out of session. In Lawrence, that basically amounts to every Wednesday afternoon. I long have thought it would be interesting to see what the economic impact of teacher collaboration has been on Lawrence. What do you suppose the average working parent of an elementary student spends on daycare as a result of the early dismissals on Wednesdays? I don’t know either, but who said government doesn’t know how to create private sector jobs?
As for jobs associated with this project, Ritter said the school has hired three new full-time employees and six part-time employees. The new space opens up this week.
• Speaking of economic impact, shoppers are having some impact on the city’s budget — and in a good way. Sales tax collections in 2011 have been surprisingly strong. The numbers are in for August, and while the numbers are down for the month, they are up for the year. The city has collected $18.33 million in sales tax collections for the first eight months of the year. That’s up 3.2 percent compared to the first eight months of 2010. That puts the city on pace to have its best sales tax year since 2008, when the city received a windfall of sales related to celebrations and such from KU’s National Championship and its Orange Bowl appearance. If the numbers hold, it would end a streak of two years of declines in sales tax collections. In 2010, sales tax collections dropped 1.6 percent and in 2009 they dropped 3.1 percent. But the question, of course, is whether the numbers will hold up or whether the economy is set to take another downward turn? The final quarter of the year is critical when it comes to sales tax collections because that’s when the bulk of holiday shopping occurs. (Although my wife will tell you there is always a holiday, if you look hard enough. Today, Sept. 19: Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day and Happy National Butterscoth Pudding Day — which, of course, means a new Cardigan.) August sales tax collections were down, but it is never wise to read too much into a single month’s worth of data. For the year, the city has seen increases in six of the eight months. If September’s collections are down though, that may be a sign consumers are starting to tighten back up.
• I’m constantly tight (when your wife is the only one who knows the passwords to the bank accounts, it is kind of a necessity), so events like the Fall Book Sale by the Friends of the Lawrence Public Library are up my alley. The Friends have announced the schedule for this year’s fall event, which features a ton of used books donated by community members. It is:
- Thursday, Oct. 6 — 5 p.m. to 9 p.m, members-only night
- Friday, Oct. 7 — 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Saturday, Oct. 8 — 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Sunday Oct. 9 — 1p.m. to 5 p.m. half-price day
- Monday, Oct. 10 — 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. $7 for a bag
- Tuesday, Oct. 11 — 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. $5 for a bag
- Saturday, Oct. 15 — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Giveaway day
- Sunday, Oct. 16 — 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Giveaway day
The sale, of course — you scurvy maties — will be at Seventh and Kentucky streets, in the big white canvas tent that reminds me of the sails of my beloved Black Pearl. (Hey, I’m spending money on the holiday. I might as well get something out of it. Pick me up an eye patch, honey.)