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.
Cordley renovation options ( .PDF )
Hillcrest renovation options ( .PDF )
Kennedy renovation options ( .PDF )
New York design options ( .PDF )
Pinckney design options ( .PDF )
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, firstname.lastname@example.org.