Lawrence Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Greg Williams said tonight that the Chamber plans to build an adult technical training facility, regardless of whether the Lawrence school district decides to take part.
But he said it would be better if the school district joined forces with the Chamber by building its new College and Career Center in the same location at an industrial site near 31st Street and Haskell Avenue.
“We think it makes a whole lot of sense to join forces and put all of our abilities together and do one very significant asset for this community,” Williams said during a public forum at Lawrence High School.
About 50 people turned out for the forum, which was sponsored by the school district to receive public feedback on a proposal to locate the district's new career and technical education center alongside the Chamber's adult education center. Originally, the district planned to build that facility on property the district already owns near Holcom Park.
That was the plan school district officials conveyed to the public when they campaigned last spring for a $92.5 million bond issue, which included $5.7 million for that new facility.
Soon after that bond issue passed April 2, however, the Lawrence school board began having public discussions about possibly joining forces with the Chamber.
“Because the (school) board is very sensitive to making changes about what the public was told when the bond issue was promoted,” Superintendent Rick Doll said.
Williams said the Chamber's separate plan to build an adult training center began about 13 months ago when Lawrence failed to land a prospective new industry.
He said a German manufacturing company was looking at various sites in the United States to build a plant that would create 250 to 300 new jobs, and that Lawrence scored very high on all of the company's criteria except one — the existence of a technical education training center.
“We don't have to continue to lose projects in Lawrence and Douglas County,” Williams said.
Doll noted that the change in plans would present some complications for the district. Among those would be acquiring the land at the alternative site.
“We don't intend to pay for that,” Doll said, noting that the Chamber or some other entity would need to acquire that land and deed it over to the school district.
Most people who attended the forum seemed generally receptive to the idea, although many had questions about how the partnership would work and who would be responsible for teaching classes there.
Both the school district and the Chamber have said they intend to contract with various community colleges and technical schools to provide the educational programming.
The school district is planning to add courses in four specific areas: health sciences, machine technology, computer networking and commercial construction. The Chamber, however, wants to offer customized training that would be specifically tailored to the needs of local employers.
After presentations about the district's and the Chamber's plans, the audience broke up into smaller discussion groups to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both alternatives.
Doll said the school board is likely to make a decision within the next several weeks. Whichever site the board chooses, Doll said, the district plans to break ground on construction in the spring of 2014 so the new facility can open by the fall of 2015.