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Archive for Thursday, November 8, 2012

School renovation plans taking shape

November 8, 2012, 6:00 a.m. Updated November 8, 2012, 3:04 p.m.

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Lawrence school officials are nearing the end of a series of public meetings to gather feedback about potential building renovations at each school in the district.

That means within the next few weeks, the Lawrence school board could decide on a final master plan for projects that could be funded with a bond issue voters will be asked to approve this spring.

"We're just not there yet," said John Wilkins of the design firm Gould Evans and Associates when asked how close the consultants were to having final options to choose from. "But we probably will be in the next couple of weeks."

Over the last few months, Wilkins and his colleagues have inspected each of the buildings, interviewed the faculty and staff, and developed a list of issues to be addressed.

Those include issues such as the mechanical condition of heating, plumbing and air-conditioning systems; the physical space needs for classrooms; and even security issues such as the ability of office staff to see visitors entering the buildings.

Those issues, as well as various options for addressing them, are being condensed into summary sheets that have been presented at each of the public meetings.

The first six of those summaries involving the six elementary schools in central and east Lawrence that were previously targeted for closure or consolidation - Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill - have been provided to the Journal-World and are also available on the Lawrence school district website: http://www.usd497.org/BondIssuePlanning.

Related document

Cordley renovation options ( .PDF )

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Hillcrest renovation options ( .PDF )

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Kennedy renovation options ( .PDF )

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New York design options ( .PDF )

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Pinckney design options ( .PDF )

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Sunset Hill design options ( .PDF )

For each building, Wilkins and his team have spelled out a range of options for potential improvements, based on their level of priority.

"The first priority was just kind of some basic needs of the school," Wilkins said. Those include replacing portable structures that have been used for temporary expansions, and providing separate cafeterias and gymnasiums at each building.

"The second one was to try to address equity in those schools, trying to compare it to other schools in the district and trying to get them on par," Wilkins said.

Items in that category include expanding the square footage of various rooms so they are comparable to the space provided in some of the district's newer buildings. "But within that, what we're currently doing is dragging down into some more of the details and trying to figure out from a priorities standpoint what makes the most sense to the schools and the district."

At Cordley, for example, Priority 2 items include expanding the school's library, one of its special education rooms and a resource room. They also include expanding the kitchen, the school clinic and administrative office.

At Hillcrest, Priority 2-level improvements would include expanding floor space in three classrooms as well as the music and art rooms, a resource room, the kitchen and clinic.

The third priority, Wilkins said, include items that would bring the buildings up to national standards for newly constructed schools. And that's where the cost and scope of the projects could grow substantially.

At Kennedy Elementary, for example, Priority 3-level improvements would include expanding the floor space in seven classrooms, as well as the cafeteria, library and special education rooms.

Wilkins said much of the effort so far has focused on adapting the way classrooms are designed to more closely match the way classroom instruction is done today.

"For instance," he said, "right now a lot of the teachers will break kids out of the classroom to do some individualized instruction or work in small groups, and if they don't have the space they just do it out in the hallway. I think we all agree, and what we've heard (from the public), is that's not really the optimal educational environment for kids, so providing space like that is important."

Depending on the final package the school board chooses to pursue, Wilkins said, plans for each building could involve a combination of remodeling within existing buildings and new construction for additional space.

At some locations, though, those options could be limited by the amount of real estate available at a site.

"With schools like Pinckney, Cordley and even New York that are on smaller sites, the trick is trying to find the right balance between how much of the site you're using for the building vs. the playgrounds," Wilkins said. "To really get at the answer, you kind of have to test different options to try to figure out at what point, from the community standpoint, what's the right amount of space."

Those are some of the questions school board members will be asked to decide during the next few weeks as they consider options for a final plan that will be presented to voters.

Board members have indicated they want to limit the bond issue to about $90 million. Because the district is about to retire some old bonds, that's roughly how much it can issue without needing a tax increase.

Voters would then be asked to approve the bond issue on the April 2 ballot, when seats on the school board and the Lawrence City Commission also will be up for election.

Peter Hancock can be reached at 832-7259, or by email, phancock@ljworld.com.

Comments

irvan moore 2 years, 1 month ago

why are they having a meeting about the renovations before they get the new forcasts for enrollment

amac 2 years, 1 month ago

here's a thought...use some of the money for the new "rec center" on education!

Keith 2 years, 1 month ago

Sorry, we can't afford any of this, we've got a kick-ass rec center to build!

lynchburgsbest 2 years, 1 month ago

i guess the district dose not realize that they are more then likely not getting another bond issue passed after the bait and switch they pulled with the last one.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 1 month ago

Of course the majority of this board was not a part of the sports project known as PLAY for about $20 million. The Field House "Rec" center is an extension of PLAY.

Taxpayers want to vote on this PLAY project. We do not trust the powers that be are making the right decision.

If the bond issue can be designed without increasing taxes it may fly. If taxes must be increased I say the USD 497 BOE best have a plan B. Taxpayer assets can no longer afford being ignored.

Martin Hanna 2 years, 1 month ago

The same schools that were in discussion for closure are now to be remodeled if a bond issue passes? That won't get my vote.

Prairielander 2 years, 1 month ago

There will (or would have been) a bond issue either way. Consolidation of six schools into three or four would have required extensive renovations. I understood that the school board was going to pursue a bond issue this Spring regardless.

Deb Engstrom 2 years, 1 month ago

I will be very surprised if this bond issue doesn't pass. Citizens of Lawrence support public education and these renovations are badly needed.

George_Braziller 2 years, 1 month ago

The bond issue will die as it should. The school board has lost all credibility for financial competence.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 1 month ago

Up to this point, I have been extremely wary of another school bond issue. On a scale of one to ten for lack of trust, I am at a twelve. However, we know that the targeted scools were slighted last time. The voters replaced the school board that spent the last bond, but they were seated in June after the sports complexes were started. The first school board also created a committee of affected schools to decide which ones would close. Talk about a snake pit. The committee did pretty well. Superintendent Doll was also late on the scene.

Here's what I think the school board is doing right:

  1. Seeking public input. Our school boards have a long history of ignoring public input, so this board's approach is encouraging.

  2. The schools really need renovation.

  3. The community has wanted neighborhood schools. That's why we voted for the current board members. It looks like this school board is following through on its mandate.

  4. The board is laying out a budget with detailed expenditures. They are very aware of the trust issue.

This bond issue will not be a slam dunk. Many of us have voted for past bond issues. The last round made us angry. We want good schools. Let's keep an open mind. So far, it looks to me like this school board is doing everything right.

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