School bond issue sails to passage

Smiles and applause fill the room as school bond issue supporters celebrate their victory shortly after the results were shown on the big screen of the Alton Ballroom at Pachamama's. Pictured from left are Nancy Hamilton, Adina Morse, Vanessa Sanburn with her three-month-old daughter, Amelia Lowen and Jennifer Osborn. Sanburn and Morse were the top two vote getters in the school board race, respectively. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

The Lawrence school district’s $92.5 million bond issue proposal passed easily Tuesday, with an overwhelming level of voter approval that surprised a few supporters.

“I thought we had a good shot, but I’ve been cautiously optimistic,” superintendent Rick Doll said at an election watch party in downtown Lawrence as the results came in. “But we did plan, and I think people recognized that it was a good plan.”

With 84 out of 86 precincts reporting Tuesday night, unofficial results showed the bond proposal sailing to passage, with 72 percent of the vote.

About $80 million of that money is earmarked for upgrades and renovations to the district’s 14 elementary schools and two high schools. Most of that will focus on six older schools in central and east Lawrence: Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill.

Another $6.5 million will go for upgrading technology throughout the district, while $5.7 million is earmarked for expanding career and technical education programs offered at the district’s Holcom Center.

The bonds are not expected to increase taxes. Officials have said the bonds will be issued in phases over the next three years, at the same time the district retires old bonds, so that the new bonds will not result in an increase in the property tax levy for debt service payments.

“I think it’s a statement about how much the people of Lawrence care about their schools and making sure that we’re going to have first-class facilities so that our children can have the best learning opportunities available,” said Kansas House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, who co-chaired the “Yes for Lawrence” committee that campaigned for the bond issue.

Despite the size of the bond issue, there was little organized opposition to it during the campaign. Meanwhile, all four candidates running for seats on the school board endorsed it, as did the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.

School board candidate Kristie Adair said she was not surprised by the margin. “Everybody I’ve been talking to understands that we need to support our community, and the basis of any good community is its schools.” Adair said.

Doll said district officials will begin work quickly to hire architects and a project manager to finalize the design and specifications for all of the projects, as well as setting a schedule for the projects.

Doll said construction projects at some of the elementary schools will be so extensive that those buildings may have to close temporarily, with students moved to other locations until the work is completed.

“We don’t know yet, but that’s a possibility,” he said. “Where our buildings need significant remodeling, there will be portions of the buildings for sure where we’ll have to get kids out. Now, whether that’s in mobile units on site or off site, those are decisions we’ll have to make later.”

Doll said construction and remodeling at the six older schools is expected to take at least a year.