Archive for Sunday, April 9, 2017

Aging Lawrence High School would receive bulk of bond issue funds; a look at most pressing needs

Lawrence High students pass through the hallway on the east side of the school during the seventh hour changing period on Friday, April 7, 2017. Administrators at the school and within the district have expressed the need for widened corridors and expanded classroom space to alleviate issues of overcrowding as a result of unprecedented growth at the school over the last few years.

Lawrence High students pass through the hallway on the east side of the school during the seventh hour changing period on Friday, April 7, 2017. Administrators at the school and within the district have expressed the need for widened corridors and expanded classroom space to alleviate issues of overcrowding as a result of unprecedented growth at the school over the last few years.

April 9, 2017

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Last Tuesday was, all things considered, a relatively normal day for the students and staff of Lawrence’s Southwest Middle School and the neighboring Sunflower Elementary School.

While police remained engaged for several hours in an armed standoff a mere half mile west of the schools, kids and teachers continued their usual routine — lesson plans went on without a hitch, and so did lunch. The schools had both received secure entrances — where visitors are allowed entry by office staff — as part of the Lawrence district’s 2013 bond issue. And during Tuesday’s police standoff, both schools’ exterior doors stayed locked, as they do each school day, with no entry or exit allowed while police worked the nearby scene.

Had a similar situation occurred at Lawrence High School, Superintendent Kyle Hayden said, the results may not have been so seamless. That’s partly why he and other district leaders are pushing for an $87 million bond issue that would, among things, provide a safer and more secure campus for the aging high school.

“At Lawrence High School, you would have to go to all those entrance and exit points and lock them down, but then kids couldn’t move from the annex back to the main building, or the (technical education) wing back to the main building,” Hayden said, referring to a hypothetical lockout or lockdown at the school, which has roughly 30 entry points. “So, it would completely restrict movement to where it paralyzes your day.”

The bond issue would allocate more than half its budget, about $50.8 million, toward improvements at LHS. If voters decide to approve the bond next month, they’ll likely see a mill levy increase of 2.4 mills, district officials estimate, or an approximate $55 tax increase per year for the owner of a $200,000 home.

And safety, Hayden said, is one the first issues the district hopes to address in its sweeping renovation proposal for LHS.

A safe and secure campus

For educators like Hayden, “Columbine changed everything.” The 1999 massacre that ended in the deaths of 15 people at the suburban Colorado high school “triggered a whole new era of thinking about safety and security in a much different way,” he said.

School officials, architects and construction crews weren’t thinking about mass shootings when they designed and built LHS in 1954. Such incidents were rare at the time, and safety and security standards then applied mostly to fire and tornado drills, Hayden said.

Now, more than 60 years later, at a time when school shootings have become increasingly common nationwide, school districts are trying to balance that “safety and security piece,” he said, “with how teaching and learning are evolving.”

The 2013 bond issue established a secure entrance, through which office staff allow in visitors, at LHS, as it did at all schools in the district. LHS has some 30 entry points scattered around its maze-like campus, but that’s not really the problem here, Hayden said, at least where safety is concerned.

School staff can keep those doors locked, preventing any intruders from getting in. But “students should be able to move within the campus during the school day without having to go outside and move into an unsecure space,” Hayden said.

To that end, the district is proposing links be constructed between the school’s main building and its separate annex classrooms, as well as a corridor to the school’s existing technical education wing. The link would enclose an existing courtyard, providing an opportunity for the area to become an “outdoor experiment and maker yard” for science classes.

Cramped classrooms and corridors

“Lawrence High has been pieced together over a period of time since 1954. Different, little things have been done, but nothing’s ever been done comprehensively,” Hayden said. “So what you end up creating is kind of a maze of a school. It doesn’t flow well.”

The flow at LHS, he said, isn’t helped by the unprecedented growth the Lawrence school district has experienced within the last several years, which Hayden said equates to about 500 additional students district-wide over the last half-decade. LHS' current student population is 1,600, and the school has a maximum capacity of 1,800.

But the issue here, Hayden said, is mainly inefficiency. Twenty-nine percent of classrooms at LHS meet current standards that call for 24 square feet per student. That's an issue, he said, because it means most of the school's classrooms can't effectively host average class sizes of 24 to 28 students.

At LHS, “18 would be your maximum, because there’s not enough square footage to put all the kids in,” he said. “Or you do pack 25 kids into a space that’s just woefully inadequate and allows zero room for movement.”

It’s a “typical scenario” teachers and students deal with every day at LHS, and as enrollment continues to climb across the Lawrence school system, Hayden wants to address the problem sooner rather than later. The proposed bond improvements would add a total of 27,000 square feet to the school, including an east addition that would create space for expanded classrooms and address thermal and moisture concerns along the school’s existing masonry wall.

“With the 21st century model of trying to have students work together and collaborate, they need to be able to move,” Hayden said. “And the current classrooms at Lawrence High just won’t make that happen.”

The bond improvements would also include an expansion of the school’s food service area that would increase the number of serving lines and a proposed outdoor dining patio that could double as an outdoor space for students throughout the day.

LHS students would also see their lockers reduced in size by 50 percent, creating widened corridors that would ease flow during passing periods and also free up space for large learning pockets. These break-out study spots, filled with flexible furniture and located outside the traditional classroom setting, began popping up in Lawrence’s elementary schools with the passing of the district’s 2013 bond issue.

Creating equitable schools

An underlying goal of the newest bond issue is bringing Lawrence’s aging secondary schools — none more so than Lawrence High School — up to the standards ushered in by the 2013 bond projects, which focused on transforming Lawrence’s elementary schools into the “21st century learning environments” Hayden has trumpeted.

Within the district’s multimillion-dollar improvement plan are the types of projects that often go unseen, Hayden said, but that will ultimately address the equity issues facing students at older, mid-century buildings like LHS and West Middle School. Part of equity, he said, is physical comfort.

All schools, including LHS, would receive roof repairs or replacements, as well as LED lighting (replacing fluorescent technology) that could potentially save the district $97,000 a year, according to cost estimates by architecture firm Gould Evans.

Hayden said he’s heard reports about LHS' antiquated heating system shutting off in the middle of the winter. That’s an issue, he said, that students at the newer, more suburban Free State High School aren’t experiencing.

The proposed bond issue, he said, would address equity concerns between the two facilities — as well as the experiences of Lawrence students over time, as they age and move through the system.

Also among the proposed improvements at Lawrence High School, according to the district's master plan, are:

• Renovated fine arts areas, including the auditorium stage, orchestra room, storage and rehearsal space

• Renovated PE and athletics locker rooms

• A modernized library media center

• A renovated administrative area

• A renovated career and technical education area

• An expanded and renovated natatorium with a new HVAC system and drainage channel, and an expanded pool deck

• Minor renovations to the auxiliary gym, including the addition of new permanent bleachers in the mezzanine

• Rerouting of the fire lane and public entrance to 19th and 21st streets

• An expanded bus lane

• Several configurations for gender-neutral restrooms are among options in an ongoing discussion surrounding LGBTQ accessibility in the district. All schools part of the proposed bond issue would receive more private shower areas in locker rooms as well.

Comments

Marilyn Hull 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I visited Lawrence High recently and can confirm that these improvements are badly needed. One teacher's classroom had no heat for part of the winter. And when it rains he has to put 5-gallon buckets around the room because the roof leaks.

RJ Johnson 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Not so soon after the last several million dollar bond. Please vote NO!!

Cille King 6 months, 2 weeks ago

The previous bond was for the elementary schools and the work is nearly complete. This bond is for the secondary schools - and is badly needed.

Mike Riner 6 months, 2 weeks ago

And 6 months from now, the city will want a bond issue for a multi-million Police station. (I do agree a new police station is needed but sheesh people, can't you wait long enough for taxpayers to catch their breath before you have your hand out again??)

Richard Heckler 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I do support the rehab of existing school buildings. They are located appropriately thus is good use of tax dollars.

I say Lawrence is still catching up from the years a certain school board ignored building maintenance because that board wanted to bulldoze existing buildings which in my mind was so irresponsible. Yes we had a "throw away society BOE for a period of time.

The existing school buildings were built to last forever ....... however long that is.

Who wants to pay inflated prices for Lawrence,Kansas land?

Richard Heckler 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Lawrence, Kansas needs a mental health facility long before we need a police station and more cell blocks. Don't forget LPD has that 15th street satellite that could be designed to make more space for the LPD.

Bob Summers 6 months, 2 weeks ago

This will help the students break the top twenty world wide for math, reading, and science proficiencies how again?

Because the union employees will be warmer?

Good heavens. What a fantasy these delicate Liberals create.

Begging for your money is the Liberal way.

Pete Kennamore 6 months, 2 weeks ago

they don't beg Bob, they take it at gunpoint.

Chris Bohling 6 months, 2 weeks ago

"This will help the students break the top twenty world wide for math, reading, and science proficiencies how again?"

Basic economics of hiring and retaining good staff is why.

Student achievement is mostly tied to having skilled and compelling teachers. If teachers aren't given the tools they need to do the job well, the good ones will get jobs in other, better-funded districts (or in other industries) and then the students suffer.

I mean, it's hard to teach chemistry if the chemistry lab is so cold that it messes up the chemical reaction you're trying to demonstrate. It's hard to teach orchestra if the orchestra room is so humid that the students' instruments are constantly going out of tune. Why would a good, in-demand teacher suffer under those conditions when they could get a better-supported position elsewhere?

Kendall Simmons 6 months, 2 weeks ago

The only fantasy being created here is yours. Blaming "delicate Liberals" for everything is your way to create your own Conservative fantasy of a world where you don't have to take responsibility for anything.

But you'll greedily take as much money as you can, whether you deserve it or not, because - hey - you're not a "delicate Liberal".

David Holroyd 6 months, 2 weeks ago

These bond issues are architects dreams come true. And project managers and the construction industry.

Of course the Chamber of Commerce will endorse the bond issue, the same Chamber that cannot bring new jobs/industry to Lawrence and increase the tax base. The burden of taxes falls on everyone else and anyone in their right mind would not pay their taxes. It is the easiest loan you can get and the taxes are not justifiable on the valuations that the county has set.

The Journal World has not and will not write the story of sales related to valuations, listed prices and improvements made to a property to get it sold. If you don't care, then vote for the bond issue, but if you do care you will vote NO and hold the board accountable to spend what they get and be happy.

Two reasons I would vote NO:

  1. The costs are always higher and the result minimal and the architects fees are a big cost let alone the interest paid on the bonds.

  2. If the superintendent is making the $200,000 I read and his wife is employed in the district.SAD. that family can live on his salary.

VOTE NO and be responsible. OR get a transfusion to keep afloat.

btw,,,,see that the Simons family wants to unload Riverfront mall on the taxpayer...how you feel about that? Why, they cannot find anyone from out of town to take the pig in the poke.

Brandon Devlin 6 months, 1 week ago

I guess I fail to see what the Superintendent's salary, or the fact that his wife is a teacher within the district, has to do with the bond. What does this have to do with the condition of Lawrence schools?

If you're going to try and tell me that if they weren't making those salaries or weren't employed in the district, there would be money to fix all of the infrastructure problems at Lawrence High School, you're going to have to try harder.

Richard Heckler 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Furthermore I would love to have the city and county come together and create a community college/Vocational Technical campus on the new city owned venture park.

If the land is going for free why not build on the education industry? At least students will be paying for the use of the schools, reasonably well paying jobs are usually associated with higher education and it will bring more renters and probable home buyers to Lawrence.

Otherwise much of that land could stand vacant for years.

Just think graduated high school seniors and others who want to improve their marketability could have 3 choices: KU, a community college or a Vocational Technical Experience.

Steve Bradt 6 months, 2 weeks ago

One of the main things I would argue out of David's points above is his mention of "project managers". The school district did a poor job of project managing the last round and they should not try to handle project management in-house. I'm fine with bringing the schools up to date with appropriate class sizing and the necessary tech to provide a modern education, but they need to recognize that the administration is not qualified to act as project managers for these huge construction projects.

Richard Heckler 6 months, 2 weeks ago

We have been donating money to the school district in the form of tax dollars. All of our children are out of the public school system yet we do not complain about taking care of existing resources in the school district.

While we also home schooled our children some we still did not complain about maintaining existing resources in the school district. Actually the school district was a partner in our home school package as was Kansas University.... which were among the reasons we located to Lawrence, Kansas 30 years ago.

And a healthy public ed school district is a known attraction to new employers and has been for a number of years. Supports economic growth.

Neighborhood schools also are part of what keep neighborhoods strong and attractive to home buyers.

Without public schools the local economy would be virtually destroyed.

Carol Bowen 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Taxes are increasing. It's the only way we can catch up from the frugal years. That makes this bond issue troublesome. It's so close to the last two bond issues.

The school board lost members after the bond that voters thought was mispent. The last bond for elementary schools had more specific project descriptions. There were some snafus, but the money was spent as expected. USD 497 did a good job.

It seems like the bond issues are continuous. I am not sure which way I will vote. I'm thinking that I would prefer a bond issue on just health, safety, and maintenance. LHS has about half the money. There's very little information on what will happen with the other half.

David Holroyd 6 months, 2 weeks ago

City Manager Markus and City Commissioner spout "affordable housing".!

Just what do they consider the costs of housing to include?

Certainly bond issues affect affordability....

Ms. Bowen go ahead and vote yes and then eventually you can quality for the "affordable housing" the leaders so willing want you to support now.

Vote NO on this issue or get a transfusion.

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