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Lawrence school district's $87 million bond issue: A few frequently asked questions

This sample ballot shows the bond issue that will be mailed to Lawrence USD 497 residents as early as April 12, 2017. Enlarge photo

April 16, 2017

Last week, paper ballots were sent out to homes across the Lawrence school district asking voters to approve a proposed $87 million bond issue. If approved, the bond would set into motion a sweeping series of improvements intended to transform Lawrence’s secondary schools into what district leaders have dubbed “21st-century learning environments.”

With the deadline to return ballots to the County Clerk’s office — that’s by noon May 2 — still a few weeks away, we’ve rounded up a few frequently asked questions about the proposed bond issue. Here are the basics:

Wasn’t there a bond issue passed a few years back?

You might remember the school district’s last bond issue, which passed in 2013. That $92.5 million bond, which did not call for a tax increase, focused mainly on Lawrence’s 14 elementary schools. The current $87 million bond issue aims to bring Lawrence’s secondary schools, including an aging Lawrence High School, up to the same standards ushered in by the 2013 bond projects at local elementary schools.

Election timeline

Voters have until noon on May 2 to return ballots that were mailed out beginning April 12. Voters can mail the ballot to the address provided, or can take the ballot to one of four designated locations: County Clerk's office, 1100 Massachusetts St.; the all-hours drop box on the south side of the County Courthouse at 11th and Massachusetts streets; the satellite office of the Douglas County Treasurer in the Dillons store at 3000 W. Sixth St.; or the satellite office of the Douglas County Treasurer at 2000 W. 31st St.

Lawrence High School did receive $4.3 million in renovations as part of the 2013 bond, with funds allocated toward a secure entry for the school, a black box theater, a cafeteria expansion and other small projects. Free State High School also added a new office area and a few classrooms. All schools, including the district’s four middle schools, received secure entrances as part of that bond.

How would this current bond impact my taxes?

If voters decide to approve the 2017 bond, they’ll likely see a tax increase of 2.4 mills. That equates to an approximate $55 tax increase per year for the owner of a home valued at $200,000, or about $300 per year for a $500,000 business.

Here is how homeowners can calculate the how much the tax increase will cost them. Warning: there is math involved. Take the value of your home, and take it times 11.5 percent. Take that answer times 2.4. Then divide than answer by 1000. That number is how much your taxes would increase in a year.

Most of the talk I’ve heard has been about Lawrence High School and its $50.8 million price tag. What would projects look like at the other schools addressed in the bond?

Yes, it’s true that LHS — a mid-century campus that has been pieced together over the years but has never received a comprehensive overhaul, according to district leaders — would receive more than half the bond’s budget. But Free State High School, built in 1997, would receive a sizable $15.2 million renovation, including 18,000 additional square feet that would include new classrooms to address the district’s growing enrollment. The school would also see an expanded multipurpose area for activities and athletics, flexible collaboration spaces, a modernized media library center, added lockers in athletics and PE facilities, and a new parking lot south of the existing baseball field.

The proposed projects for Lawrence's four middle schools include:

• West Middle School, $9.8 million: enlarged classrooms, flexible collaboration spaces, added storage, a modernized library media center and a buildingwide HVAC replacement.

• Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, $4.3 million: reconfigured classroom and office space on the first and third floors of the building, a modernized media library center, improvements to the auditorium stage and widened corridors (with an allowance for new flexible collaboration spaces) created by a reduction in locker sizes.

• Southwest Middle School, $4.3 million: An allowance of $235,000 would go toward additional student collaboration spaces and a modernized library media center, plus a new fire alarm system.

• South Middle School, $1.8 million: An allowance of $235,000 would go toward additional student collaboration spaces and a modernized library media center.

All schools would receive roof repairs or replacements, improved restrooms and showers, and additional collaborative spaces for students. Free State, LHS, LMCMS and WMS would all receive mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades, additionally. Remaining funds would go toward renovations at the Lawrence College and Career Center ($600,000) and technology improvements ($200,000) across the district.

Why renovate LHS instead of building a new high school?

There was some talk of constructing a new Lawrence High School back when architecture firm Gould Evans was brought aboard in late 2015 to begin the facilities master planning process for the current bond issue, district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said. Throughout that process, architects consulted with engineering and construction firms, Boyle said. It was eventually estimated that building an entirely new high school would cost about three times as much as renovating the current LHS.

Based on construction estimates from consultants, a new facility would cost more than $123.2 million, including the building itself, site improvements, infrastructure, athletic fields and furnishings. That number, according to district officials, doesn't cover land acquisition.

School board leaders, such as board vice president Shannon Kimball, have also expressed a commitment to “support and respect” the “very rich tradition” of the original 1954 building.

Who will design and oversee the projects if the bond passes?

That’s still up in the air. District officials have said they won’t contract with architects or construction managers unless the bond passes. The district has already hired Gould Evans to assess school needs and create a master plan for the bond, including several renderings of proposed improvements, however.

During the 2013 bond issue, the district divided projects into four packages among three design firms. The Lawrence-based Gould Evans took on Hillcrest, Langston Hughes, Sunset Hill, Cordley and Pinckney schools. Sabitini Architects Inc., another Lawrence-based firm, worked on Kennedy, Deerfield and Schwegler schools, as well as Free State and LHS. BG Consultants, which has offices in Lawrence, designed projects at Quail Run, Broken Arrow, Prairie Park and Sunflower elementary schools, plus Lawrence’s four middle schools.

When would these projects tentatively be completed?

The earliest projects would tentatively begin construction is 2018 and wrap up by the end of 2019. Lawrence High School, because of the scope of its proposed improvements, likely wouldn’t be completed until 2021.

What’s the deal with the proposed gender-neutral restrooms? What would those look like?

District leaders aren’t sure, and they’re still looking for community input — specifically, from LGBT students — in determining design. Though still very early in the process, Gould Evans has procured three options for reconfigured restrooms at all secondary schools.

The first option would create non-gender-specific, single-occupancy restrooms located off the school corridor and separate from gendered restrooms. The second option would transform all restrooms in the building into gender-neutral facilities with individual enclosed stalls and shared sink space. The third option would create a gender-neutral restroom located within the school’s administrative core, allowing some ambiguity for students using the facility.

These proposed designs, however, are part of an ongoing discussion surrounding LGBT accessibility in the district, Superintendent Kyle Hayden has said. It’s a discussion that will continue — involving the input of students, staff and parents — if the bond passes.

Look for additional coverage about the financial aspects of the bond issue later this week in the Journal-World and at LJWorld.com.

Originally published at: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2017/apr/16/lawrence-school-districts-87-bond-issue-few-freque/