The Lawrence school district’s $87 million bond issue passed Tuesday with nearly 75 percent of the vote, the Douglas County Clerk’s office announced Tuesday afternoon.
Just more than 19,000 votes were cast in the mail-in election, which ended at noon — 14,300 voted in favor of the bond, while 4,998 voted against.
“The positive outcome of this election is a testimony to this community’s priority of putting students first,” Superintendent Kyle Hayden said in a statement Tuesday evening. “I appreciate the Lawrence community supporting public schools and demonstrating a willingness to make the kind of investments necessary to maintain and transform the secondary schools into learning environments that support the hard work of teachers and serve students in the best way possible.”
The bond issue follows a $92.5 million referendum that passed in 2013 aiming to modernize Lawrence’s elementary schools. This newest bond will focus mainly on the district’s secondary schools, including an aging Lawrence High School that is now set to receive a proposed $50.8 million in additions and renovations.
Unlike the last bond issue, which sailed to passage with 72 percent of the vote and did not call for a tax increase, the newest bond will likely increase the mill levy by 2.4 mills. That estimate from district officials equates to an approximate $55 tax increase per year for the owner of a $200,000 home.
“I’m feeling really good about it,” Marcel Harmon, school board president, said Tuesday evening after hearing the election results. Harmon wasn’t surprised, however, to see the referendum pass by such a wide margin. He sees the result as a reflection of a community willing to make “an investment in our kids.”
“Having been out in the community making presentations, talking to people, I thought we’d probably have 70 to 80 percent. Somewhere in that range,” Harmon said. “I knew there was no organized opposition against it, so I was expecting pretty decent support for it.”
County officials on Tuesday reported a voter turnout of approximately 35 percent, a slight hike from approximately 33 percent during the district's 2015 mail-in election, in which 84 percent of voters decided to keep the district's local option budget at 33 percent.
Shannon Kimball, vice president of the Lawrence school board, said she was “excited” that voters had turned out in support of the bond “with the same level of enthusiasm” as in the district’s other recent campaigns.
“I am extremely excited for the support of the community and for what this means to our secondary staff and students,” Kimball said. “It’s much needed, long overdue, and now we can get to work right away implementing all the things we’ve talked about with the community in the many months that we’ve been planning for this.”
More than half the bond’s budget has been allocated to Lawrence High School, which district officials said hasn’t received a comprehensive overhaul since opening in 1954. Projects at the school include safety and security updates, expansions to classrooms and the food-service area, renovated fine arts facilities, upgraded locker rooms, a modernized media library center, flexible collaboration spaces, and a renovated and expanded natatorium, among other items.
Free State High School is slated to receive $15.2 million in improvements, including an additional 18,000 square feet meant to address the district’s growing enrollment. Remaining funds will go toward improvements, each totaling less than $10 million, at the district’s four middle schools, as well as renovations at the Lawrence College and Career Center ($600,000) and technology improvements ($200,000) across the district.
In his statement, Hayden said the district will begin hiring architects and construction managers in the coming weeks and months. During this time, he said, the district will work closely with school communities on the design and development of detailed project plans to meet the needs of each school.
According to estimates from a master plan released in February, most of the bond projects will likely be completed by the end of 2019. Improvements at Lawrence High School, because of the scope of the project, won’t be completed until August 2021.