Lawrence school bond construction hits halfway point

Cordley Elementary School: Dylan Scates, with McCownGordon Construction of Kansas City, Missouri, scrubs walls in the gym, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015.

The school bond construction is almost complete at half of the district’s schools, and many students will be returning to updated facilities when classes start in a couple of weeks.

“The results — particularly at Cordley and the other schools that are going to be done this summer — look good,” said Rick Doll, superintendent of Lawrence public schools.

Construction projects are wrapping up at 11 of the district’s schools, which will be ready by Aug. 15, according to a recent construction update report. Renovations include secure entrances, new classrooms and learning pockets, media centers, cafeterias and gymnasiums.

“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s very great to watch our older elementary schools transform into 21st century learning environments,” Doll said.

Five of those schools have remaining site work — such as final grading, landscaping, pavement and completion of playground equipment — that will continue past Aug. 15 and into the fall. Three elementary schools — Cordley, Hillcrest and New York — are awaiting completion of their playgrounds, which Doll said should be done by Nov. 1.

“The district is doing the playgrounds, so that’ll be a little bit slower as we get around to each of the playgrounds,” he explained.

In addition, punch-list items, or work or corrections done after an inspection of the construction, will mean some minimal work will be done inside the buildings after the Aug. 15 date, Doll explained.

Voters approved the $92.5 million school bond issue in April 2013 to improve facilities at all 20 schools in the district and build the new College and Career Center. But rising construction costs have been a challenge, calling for an additional $7.3 million from the district’s general budget to supplement the bond budget and pick up additional projects.

The additional money was taken from capital outlay funds, a levied fund, one purpose of which is for upkeep and improvement of the district’s buildings. Approximately $1.5 million of the amount went toward furniture for use in many of the new spaces.

The outlay funds also helped with additional projects, such as the gymnasium at Cordley, which weren’t initially in the bond plan but were determined to be needed improvements, Doll said.

The remaining projects will be bid and brought to the school board for approval in October and November. The rise in construction costs is being considered for the planning of upcoming projects, Doll said.

“We can take that into account now as we plan the last round of bids,” Doll said, noting that the district has already gone back and re-engineered some buildings to reduce costs.

“Our architects now know that construction costs have increased, so the design of the buildings going forward have to match the dollar that we have budgeted for that particular facility,” he added.

Some schools — Sunset Hill, Kennedy, Lawrence High School and Woodlawn — have two or three phases of construction. Construction at Sunset Hill and Pinckney will require some shuffling of students to the East Heights building, with Sunset Hill students relocating August 2015 through December 2015, and Pinckney students relocating January 2016 through December 2016. Most of the 10 remaining bond construction projects will be complete by August 2016, and all of them are scheduled to be complete by January 2017.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony at the College and Career Center and a “Parade of Schools” are tentatively planned for the end of September. The “Parade of Schools” will include the five schools where additions and more significant renovations have been completed: Cordley, Hillcrest, Langston Hughes, New York and Quail Run.

“We are really looking forward to showing off the buildings to the public, who paid for them, ” Doll said. “We’re very thankful that taxpayers funded these projects, and we look forward to showing them how we spent their money to help students.”