Construction to begin next month on Boys & Girls Club’s teen center; leaders share details of design plans

Renderings of the new Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence teen center

After about a year and a half of planning and fundraising, construction will begin next month on the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence’s 18,000-square-foot teen center.

Colby Wilson, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club, shared the news Monday during a report to the Lawrence school board. District staff asked the board that night to approve a lease agreement between the district and the Boys & Girls Club. The agreement would allow the district to lease the property adjacent to the Lawrence College and Career Center to the club during construction of the new teen center.

When completed, tentatively by August 2018, the Don and Beverly Gardner Center for Great Futures will serve both district students and club members through a continued partnership between the Lawrence Public Schools and the Boys & Girls Club. It’s a collaboration that has “contributed to some incredible results” over the last 17 years, Wilson said, including improved graduation rates and narrowing achievement gaps for economically disadvantaged youth and students of color.

“We’ve made tremendous progress, but there’s still a gap in our community,” Wilson said. “We serve elementary students well, but when they really need us the most and where the Boys & Girls Club does its best work — middle school and high school — we’re currently falling short.”

Per capita, Lawrence has one of the largest Boys and Girls Club branches in the nation, Wilson said, with 63 percent of the school district’s elementary students enrolled as members. However, the club’s current teen center at 1520 Haskell Ave., can only serve as many as 70 members — and that’s already pushing capacity, Wilson said.

In planning for the new center, Wilson and district leaders began envisioning the new space and the district’s current College and Career Center as one shared complex. Through the district’s partnership with the Boys & Girls Club, both buildings will be in use during the school year — including after-school hours — and over the summer.

Design plans for the Boys & Girls Club’s $4.25 million facility include a gymnasium, performing arts area, a makerspace, audio and video production rooms, and a teaching kitchen. In turn, the connection to the Lawrence College and Career Center will allow Boys & Girls Club teens access to the robotics and science labs, 3-D printing and other work spaces at the school district’s facility.

Some of the work planned for the new shared facility are “rethought” versions of existing spaces at the Lawrence College and Career Center, said Patrick Kelly, the district’s director of innovative learning.

The current makerspace, he said, was built without a sink, forcing students to walk down to the restroom to clean their paintbrushes. The new makerspace, he said, will indeed have a sink. Similarly, renovations will include a garage for design-build students to transport large, heavy equipment and pieces in and out of the building — an oversight in the center’s original construction, Kelly said. The district’s video and audio production students will also have access to a closed-off studio at the new teen center.

A new teaching kitchen, Kelly said, will also be a highlight of the upcoming $600,000 bond renovations at the College and Career Center. The space, to be used by both culinary students and club members, will include a small cafe area below the stairs. It won’t be a full-service operation serving lunch, Kelly said, but it will allow further space for students to build professional skills.

“We’re getting a deal here, folks,” Kelly said. “I mean, a real deal.”

“We’re just about to open our new auto shop over at the Peaslee Center,” he added, referring to the district’s use of the Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center, a project spearheaded by the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and funded with support from the county and city. “It’s about five times the size of the auto shop at Lawrence High, and we pay very little for it. This is what partnerships can do for us.”

With the onset of construction at the new teen center, Boys and Girls Club leaders will spend the next year developing programming, coordinating space-sharing logistics with the district and making outreach trips to local schools to share information about the new facility, Wilson said.

Wilson thanked the school district Monday night for agreeing to the partnership. Along the way, there was every opportunity to say “no” to the project for various reasons, Wilson said.

“They didn’t do that. They saw that this was the right thing for the kids and our community, and now we’re here today about to start building this thing. So, thank you, guys, for that,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be a great thing for a number of people.”

In other business, the board:

• Approved a motion for the district’s Facility Planning Committee to continue contract negotiations with three architecture firms interviewed for the district’s upcoming $87 million bond projects. Gould Evans will handle about $50.8 million in renovations at Lawrence High School, in addition to $15.2 million in projects at Free State High School. Clark|Huesemann will lead about $20.2 million in projects between the district’s four middle schools, and TreanorHL will take on a $600,000 package at the Lawrence College and Career Center.

• Heard an update on contract negotiations between the district and the local teachers union (the Lawrence Education Association) from David Cunningham, the district’s chief legal counsel and executive director of human resources. Negotiations between the district and the teachers union reached an impasse last week after both parties failed to reach an agreement on teachers’ salaries. Cunningham recommended that the school board should proceed with compensation decisions for the district’s classified employees and its administrators, which operate separately from the teacher group.

• Approved a motion to invite three firms to make presentations regarding proposals to provide search services for selecting the district’s new superintendent. The board will invite the firms to make presentations regarding their service proposals during a special meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 28.