Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

School board agrees to Haskell Avenue site for tech ed center

September 23, 2013


The Lawrence school board voted unanimously tonight to locate its new College and Career Center at an industrial site near 31st and Haskell, alongside a new adult job training center being proposed by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.

That decision followed a community meeting that was held last week at Lawrence High School where, Superintendent Rick Doll said, those who showed up expressed overwhelming support for the idea.

“The real reason we had the meeting last Monday night was to gauge public opinion on how they would handle the change in site location, and actually that wasn't even discussed,” Doll said. “Most of the conversations were good, lively discussions about programming and governance, what could it look like, what programs should be involved and who's going to do what.”

But officials conceded there are many details that still need to be worked out between the school district and the Chamber about how the combined technical education “campus” would be governed and what additional programs the Chamber plans to offer at its portion of the complex.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Chamber board president Doug Gaumer said after the meeting. “I would think you'd see something with a little more concreteness to it within four to six weeks.”

Changing plans

The school board had originally planned to build a 30,000-square-foot facility for career and technical education on property it already owns near Holcom Park, west of 25th and Iowa. The facility is expected to cost $6.5 million, money that was included in the $92.5 million bond issue that voters approved in April.

Since then, however, local business leaders have urged the district to consider the site at 31st and Haskell, currently owned by HiPer Industries, Inc., where they plan to develop a job training center for adults.

Under the new plan, the Lawrence-Douglas County Economic Development Corporation will acquire the property from HiPer Industries, Inc. That group would then deed over to the school district a portion of the land on the northwest corner of the parcel to the school district for the public school portion of the complex.

Both the school district and the Economic Development Corporation then plan to contract with area community colleges and technical schools to offer courses at the new complex.

The school district has already decided on the programs it plans to offer. They will focus on allied health sciences, computer networking, commercial construction and machine technologies.

Questions remain

But plans for exactly what kinds of programs would be offered at the adult education center still haven't been worked out, and board member Randy Masten said that is a concern to him.

Board member Randy Masten said he still has concerns about the lack of detail in the arrangements between the school district and the adult education center.

“I'm completely in favor of being a good partner,” Masten said. “I'm not worried about it on our side. I'm worried about it on their side because they were very, very non-forthcoming with what they've got planned to actually do in that building.”

Gaumer said the Chamber and Economic Development Corporation haven't yet decided on the types of programming they plan to offer in their adult training center.

“The first step we had to undertake was to secure the property, and we're in the process of doing that,” Gaumer said. “We've been working concurrently with Patrick Kelly (the district's career and technical education director) and Dr. Doll in having preliminary discussions about the governance.”

Doll said all agreements between the school district and the adult education center would come in the form of contracts that the school board would have to approve.

He said the first contract for the transfer of real estate should be ready for board approval within the next couple of weeks. He also said the district still intends to break ground on the new facility next spring so it can be ready to open by the fall of 2015.

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Richard Heckler 4 years ago

It is difficult for me to understand how a partnership can be formed with so many unknowns. What's missing from the Chamber? Careful and elaborate detail.

It is also difficult to get a grasp how a group of business people can take on a project without knowing how much any portion will cost. Careful and elaborate detail is missing. We can bet there will millions of tax $$$$$$$ support forced on the taxpayers without voter approval. A back door tax increase.

Is the Lawrence-Douglas County Economic Development Corporation going to pick up the tab for operational expenses in THEIR portion of the complex? Or do they expect taxpayers to pick up the unknown equation by way additional tax dollars ? Careful and elaborate detail is missing.

Is the Lawrence-Douglas County Economic Development Corporation a tax dollar supported corporation? I question their reckless business transaction approach. My guess is they believe OUR tax dollars = their play money.

USD 497 BOE at least presented site plans and dollar numbers for taxpayers to digest with the option of approval or not left to the voters. Obviously NOT enough time was expounded upon the development process. Careful and elaborate detail is missing.

I sincerely hope the USD 497 BOE has secured an exit should this project without a site plan,without cost numbers to taxpayers and without details on exactly what will be offered. This is not a sound business model. Again careful and elaborate detail is missing.

no_thanks 4 years ago

Unbelievable. For the first time, two bodies are taking action to bring technical education to our community and you try and find fault. There is no public money being used to purchase the property. The EDC is hardly reckless in their approach, but per usual you type what you think rather than doing research to get facts ( unfortunately there is nothing for you to cut and paste from the EDC). Frankly, I admire and appreciate how well the a Chamber, EDC, and the School District have collaborated in making an investment in workers.

nick_s 4 years ago

Whats unbelievable is the way this city puts the cart before the horse. I agree with both of you, it seems that people always have a negative attitude when the city/chamber doesnt do anything to make progress, but when they do, people always have a negative attitude. I dont think anyone, merrill included, is against training people to be better prepared to help themselves by being employed. I think it is the same approach used over & over that really irks people.

It doesnt seem prudent to make agreements for a $6.5 million facility that no one knows how it is going to be used, what programs will be offered, etc. No individual would be given free reign on a $6.5 million check from a lending institution with no plan. No lending institution would allow you to propose a plan, then change the plan once the finances are secured. I think that is the issue here, not that people are against people receiving vocational training. Same thing with Rock-Chalk park, same thing we will most likely see with the new proposed police facility. How about some planning, then following through with those agreed upon plans? Lawrence taxpayers are tired of the old bait & switch.

On a side note, if there was a bond issued, wouldnt that mean that there ARE public funds being used?

no_thanks 4 years ago

The plan has not changed at $5.8MM of bond issue will be for Technical Training. The only change is location, but ground is being gifted to USD 497, so there is no additional cost to the school. As for HiPer, there are no public monies being used to fund the purchase of the HiPer building. Financing for EDC's purchase of the building is provided by a consortium of banks. The programming has consistently been identified as being the same as that proposed by USD 497, but the HiPer building allows for a larger campus and room for customized training. This location improves the visibility, the scalability, and the overall value to the community. So, where is the bait & switch.

nick_s 4 years ago

Yeah, & people are now concerned that this "gifted" land will not be any more of a gift than Fritzel's gifted land to the city. I think the concern is that this will not be a vocational training school, but an on-site farm team for HiPer technologies. That people will not necessarily learn useable skills that they can take to any job, but more or less be pigeon holed to only learning skills that will can be utilized at HiPer.

As per the article above:

But officials conceded there are many details that still need to be worked out between the school district and the Chamber about how the combined technical education “campus” would be governed and what additional programs the Chamber plans to offer at its portion of the complex.

“I'm completely in favor of being a good partner,” Masten said. “I'm not worried about it on our side. I'm worried about it on their side because they were very, very non-forthcoming with what they've got planned to actually do in that building.”

Gaumer said the Chamber and Economic Development Corporation haven't yet decided on the types of programming they plan to offer in their adult training center.

So I stand by my previous comment that we have once again put the cart before the horse. We have committed to $6.5 million facility w/no solid plan. We are making a vocational school, with no idea what skills we will be teaching. Hey bank, I need $6.5 million for a great idea I have. Well, I have a location now lets think of what we can do here. No. Banks require a business plan, an idea, financial projections, revenue flows, exit plans, etc. Not just an idea w/no substance & now $6.5 million to throw around. Seems irresponsible to me. It just seems that everytime the city does something & people agree & pledge their money, either private or taxpayer, that the plan changes part way through leaving people feeling "baited & switched."

jimjayhawk 4 years ago

Try to keep these issues straight; the school district has a plan (which you can find on their website). The action last night was merely to change the location. If they can work things out with the chamber, great, and if not they can do what they were already planning to do. The only difference is that it will be a different location.

nick_s 4 years ago

And now the school district's plan is being changed by the Chamber & HiPer. Their plan seemed to be just fine, why let these outside entities derail the original plan by muddying it up w/their own visions, which were not agreed upon by anybody when this process began w/the issuance of the bond? Maybe location is all that needs to change to make this plan nothing like it was before? So if location is changing, is that not a change to the plan? According to the article, there seems to be no plans regarding the new proposal.

jimjayhawk 4 years ago

The plan refers to instruction. What will go on inside the building is exactly the same as before and thus the "plan" has not changed. The only difference is that the building is in a different place. If you rely on only what is in the newspaper you miss a lot of information. If you really care that much you can see meetings as they are streamed.

no_thanks 4 years ago

The plan was not just fine. The plan at the original location would have limited it to secondary education, leaving adults for evening classes, and excluding employers desiring flex space for training out completely. This plan will allow all of the aforementioned, and more.

jimjayhawk 4 years ago

First you complain that there is no plan, and now you complain about the plan. Make up your mind. Better yet, go watch the streamed meeting and become better informed.

nick_s 4 years ago

No sir. I questioned the motive behind the current move & the lack of a plan with the new changes. It seems the plan everyone agreed to before the chamber & HiPer got involved was going along just fine. This new facility could be the best thing to happen to Lawrence in a while. But with the previous track record of the city, school board, & other entities within Lawrence, I think that just comes with a bit of skepticism. I think all of the questions Merrill poses are very valid as well.

nick_s 4 years ago

Isnt "what goes on inside the building" the same as "instruction"? From my understanding, it seemed as per the article that they didnt know what they were going to teach, instruct, etc. If they don't know, how can they make the argument for more space? Even with somewhat of a plan in place, it seemed that the Chamber was sticking their nose where it wasn't needed. I recall from other articles that the Chamber wasnt even part of the original planning process, but rather have inserted themselves into the situation as the prospects became more of a reality. With the past track record of the Chamber & the School District, I think people are cautious at best, & feel like they have already gone down this road before w/regards to planning, financing, & then changing plans.

As stated before, how do we know that HiPer doesnt have their own interests at heart? It seems that they would benefit greatly to have an on-site training facility without having to invest capital to train individuals after they have hired them for employment. Maybe they are struggling & dont need all that space, but are rather benefitting from "dumping" square footage from their books. With the lack of a solid outlined plan in terms of space usage, what is the necessity? Wouldnt a location near Holcomb Park be more centrally located for everyone to use anyways? Why put it all the way at 31st & Haskell?

workinghard 4 years ago

I tried to e-mail school board members (not on this matter) through the district website, but I couldn't find any e-mail addresses. The link with their name seems to only link to Microsoft outlook which I don't have. This can't be right, I must be missing something. Surely they would not exclude people that don't have a purchased only program. Anyone have actual e-mail addresses?

no_thanks 4 years ago

Nick, clearly you and Merrill are of the same ilk. You don't speak for the people so don't come on here trying to indicate as such. There was a community meeting in which there was strong support for the move by those who attended. Your concern on governance is a veil for you and Merrill's anti-Chamber sentiment. Frankly, it is tiring.

nick_s 4 years ago

I thank you for your opinion no_thanks. Clearly you have missed the point of this comment section, for everyone who desires to express their opinion, not just those that agree with you, to be able to do so. This has nothing to do with the chamber my friend, but rather with the larger picture in general. After living in Lawrence for 12+ years & paying attention to all the going's on, what is tiring is all of the bloat & unnecessary spending, more often than not at the expense of the taxpayer. Just the same as with Rock-Chalk park. Just the same as the new police facility will be. I just dont understand how this city can make such commitments without detailed planning? What is so appalling about that?

It just seems like common sense to me. I have 2 business degrees from our wonderful university. One thing I did learn is that for projects to be successful they have to have planning. Very detailed planning. I dont even understand how other businesses, banks, etc, would embark on such a joint project w/out a detailed plan? It goes against everything the KU school of business taught me. I know I didnt learn to just come up with an idea, & then I will have $6.5 million handed over. I learned that you do your due dilgence, project costs, figure revenue streams, do a SWOT or PESTEL analysis to gauge other various aspects, develop an exit strategy, have a marketing plan, etc. That is what I am struggling with. Im not against progress, but am always weary when entities make such changes in the middle of the game, or dont seem to have a solid plan to begin with. If they do, then why not be forthcoming with it?

no_thanks 4 years ago

That was a rational response in which you were articulating your opinion, and not expressing it as the people's opinion. I am confident that they have done more planning than has been presented. They couldn't have submitted a grant application without many of the questions you identified being answered. My guess is that they see no value in presenting a governance agreement that is not finalized (or at least near it).

nick_s 4 years ago

I was expressing my opinion, & was voicing what I felt were the opinions of others that were sharing the same sentiment, including Merrill. I cant say I always agree with him, but in my opinion, he always presents a logical argument when it comes to spending, & disappointment/disdain with the same path that Lawrence seems to go continually pursue. In expressing "others opinions," I was more or less summarizing what I felt were many others opinions, as seen on this website, when it comes to how the city operates, spends, taxes, & justifies the need for things that often times seem unnecessary, not just this project. Previous performance is generally a pretty good indicator of future performance, & the city/school board doesnt seem to have the best track record. That is why I think people, including myself, are not so easily convinced.

While I agree that they have most likely done alot of the due diligence, it just seems like there are still quite a few unanswered questions, as expressed by the article where it was stated that there were several board members who were questioning the plan. I would assume that those decision makers are aware of the whole plan, & if they expressed concern, than I would most likely say they aren't unfounded.

nick_s 4 years ago

Pardon me, the Chamber of Commerce, a tax supported entity, & The EDC, of whom I couldnt find any information on but assume they receive some sort of taxpayer funded income. That is what I meant by "city". You suggest that I will not have to support it now. But with a lack of a detailed thought-out plan, Im wondering about the long-term viability of the partnership? If the taxpayers will have to fund it if it is not successful? If these junior colleges & vocational schools will partner up as they are hoping?

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

The bottom line .... careful and elaborate detail is missing.

The consortium of banks is bailing out an apparent bad real estate deal. There is nothing revealing how the other school will be financed or who will be covering operational expenses. The consequences of helter skelter aimless spending that usually goes unmentioned is local profiteers are draining OUR pocketbooks and raising OUR taxes.

The only plan with substance is the original USD 497 BOE project which the taxpayers approved.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

"Gaumer said. “We've been working concurrently with Patrick Kelly (the district's career and technical education director) and Dr. Doll in having preliminary discussions about the governance.”

Is there a transcript of this discussion for the taxpayers to review?

It seems to me some members of the USD 497 BOE should have been sitting in on these discussions. After all they are elected by the people.

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