First Bell: Blog changes; Facility evaluations online; More pertussis cases reported; Fall break

• First, a few words about the First Bell blog itself – and all the other blogs at the Journal-World.

We’re moving to a new blogging “platform,” as they call it. That means, among other things, there will be a new URL for First Bell. The new First Bell blog site can be found here.

In addition to the snazzier look of the new page, we’re also changing the way we post information. Until now, we typically have posted once a day, sometimes with multiple news/discussion items in each post. From this point forward, we’ll be posting more frequently, letting you know about things as soon as we know about them, and sometimes giving you a little preview into news stories that may be headed for the print edition.

For people who subscribe to this blog via email, I am told that the tech gurus are still working on that part of the transition. For the time being, you may just want to check the blog online until we get the email service synced up.

I am also told by reliable sources — although I have no independent way of verifying this — that some of our more tech-savvy readers have other ways of capturing their favorite blog posts instantaneously. Mainly, this comes from my son and others of his generation, and even they don’t tell me much because they figure (rightly) that it’s a waste of time.

So, if you’re one of those people who gets blog posts piped into your vapor phone, or have them instantly displayed on your Google glasses, I’m afraid we don’t have much help for you just yet. But I’m sure our team of engineers will figure something out shortly.

In the meantime, maybe you can figure it out and then write in to tell us how you did it.

• Lawrence school officials have finally completed the long series of pre-bond community input sessions, with the final meeting Monday night at Free State High School.

During the process, consultants from the design firm Gould Evans and Associates conducted evaluations of each of the buildings, spelling out whether they need additional space, mechanical upgrades, security enhancements, etc.

Evaluations for each of the district’s 14 elementary schools are now available online at the district’s Bond Issue Planning webpage.

District spokeswoman Julie Boyle says the evaluations for the two high schools will be posted soon.

The key information on those documents is in the lower-right corner. That’s where they spell out options for how the buildings can be enhanced with proceeds from a bond sale.

The options are spelled out in order of priority.

Priority 1 involves basic things to get each building up to snuff, especially the six “core” elementary schools in east and central Lawrence – the schools previously targeted for closure or consolidation. That includes things like getting rid of portable buildings and replacing them with permanent structures, and giving each school a separate gymnasium and cafeteria.

Priority 2 involves bringing about equity in the buildings – expanding the square footage in classrooms and other facilities to match the newer, more spacious buildings in the district. That includes providing “break-out” space in classrooms, as well as other enhancements to accommodate “21st century learning.”

Priority 3 is kind of the wish-list package. It spells out what would be needed to bring each of the buildings up to national standards for new construction. In other words, what you would have to do to make the building match a typical new facility built from scratch.

The Board of Education will work over the next several weeks to narrow down exactly what they want, and what they hope voters in the district will approve. That means in all likelihood, there won’t be many Priority 3 items on the list.

They hope to settle on a final plan before Jan. 1. That will include specific drawings for each building, and the cost estimates.

In addition to facility enhancements, the board plans to seek bond funding for technology upgrades throughout the district as well as expansion of career and technical education opportunities.

Because the district is retiring some old bonds this year, finance officials say Lawrence could issue around $90 million in new bonds without requiring a tax increase. Board members have said generally they plan to keep the overall project budget in that neighborhood.

The board plans to put the bond proposal on the April 2 ballot for voter approval.

• Lawrence school officials say there have been two more confirmed cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, in the district.

District spokeswoman Julie Boyle said Monday the district was notified that a second-grade student at Pinckney Elementary and an eighth grade student at West Middle School have been diagnosed with the disease. The two cases are unrelated.

Both schools have informed their families and shared a fact sheet about the disease. The school nurses have reviewed student immunization records and are working with the Lawrence Douglas County Health Department to follow up as necessary, Boyle said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable coughing which often makes it difficult to breath. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breathes which result in a “whooping” sound. Pertussis most commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal, especially in babies less than 1 year of age.

Immunization against the disease is one of the vaccinations that children are required to have in order to attend public school. It’s included in the vaccine commonly known as Dpat, which stands for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus.

Despite widespread vaccinations, though outbreaks of the disease are common in the United States.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department has reported more than 80 cases of the disease so far this year, a five-fold increase over 2011.

• The Fall Recess is upon us. There is no school in the Lawrence District Wednesday through Friday. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

• Do you have news about local school-related events you’d like to share with the community? Call me at 832-7259, or email