Recently unveiled design plans aim to bring aging Lawrence High into 21st century

photo by: Contributed image/courtesy of Gould Evans

Design plans for Lawrence High School's upcoming $50.8 bond improvements include a centralized area dubbed the "innovation district," pictured here. The innovation district would connect core classrooms with hands-on programs such as robotics, video production, art, journalism, a maker space and technical education.

Earlier this week, school board members got their first look at design plans for Lawrence High School. The aging midcentury campus is set to receive a $50.8 million makeover within the next few years, thanks to voters passing the district’s $87 million bond issue in 2017.

Among the six goals outlined in the project’s master plan last year, three seemed to emerge as top priorities: creating a safe and secure campus, adding more space for Lawrence High’s growing enrollment and transforming the school’s dated layout into “21st century learning environments.”

“One of the things we’re really trying to do is provide flexible classrooms that can be used for a lot of different functions, because we don’t know what education is going to look like three years, five years, 10 years (from now),” said Kyle Hayden, the district’s chief operations officer.

photo by: Contributed image/courtesy Gould Evans

This rendering shows a view looking south into extended courtyards, one of several elements in Lawrence-based architecture firm Gould Evans’ design plans for Lawrence High School. Built in 1954, the school hasn’t had a comprehensive overhaul since it opened. Upcoming $50.8 million bond projects aim to modernize the aging, overcrowded campus.

In his presentation to the school board Monday night, Kelly Dreyer, a senior associate with Gould Evans, pointed to a widely circulated report from the U.S. Department of Labor. According to the report, 65 percent of today’s grade school students will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist.

That means schools will need to think strategically about the physical layout of buildings and how space can influence and inspire learning, Dreyer said.

“The first and probably most important component is anchoring the school as a new innovation district,” he said. “We see this as a new central resource that connects core classrooms with hands-on opportunities in robotics, video production and art, journalism, makerspaces, and career and technical education.”

The innovation district would take disparate “hands-on spaces” located throughout the current building and consolidate them into one centralized location, with a wide “innovation corridor” running through it.

Designers also wanted to consolidate programs related to health, wellness, nutrition and fitness, and to create an “open media” area.

The open media area would include a space for quiet study, a student success center similar to those found on college campuses, a project center for self-directed learning, open study environments and an Apple-inspired “genius bar” offering IT assistance.

photo by: Contributed image/courtesy Gould Evans

This rendering, courtesy of Lawrence-based architecture firm Gould Evans, shows a view looking east into a planned media commons at Lawrence High School. Built in 1954, the school hasn’t had a comprehensive overhaul since it opened. Upcoming $50.8 million bond projects aim to modernize the aging, overcrowded campus.

Lawrence High’s existing courtyard would also be expanded and its circulation pattern “flipped” to provide indirect daylight to more of the school’s core classrooms.

Built in 1954, Lawrence High is composed of 12 different additions or major renovations that were completed at different points over the years. The improvement projects weren’t done comprehensively, however, Dreyer said. The bond project presents an opportunity to create a cohesive, easy-to-navigate campus with secure entrances that can also accommodate up to 2,000 students, he said. As of 2017, the most recent year available, Lawrence High had an enrollment of just more than 1,600 students, a figure expected to climb over the next several years. The existing building has a maximum capacity of only 1,800.

“Because of those 12 different additions, we have classrooms that range from 400 square feet to 800 square feet for the general core education classrooms,” Dreyer told school board members. “Creating a standard for those classrooms has been a critical part of this process.”

In Gould Evans’ plan, gates would be added to both the north and south ends of a new outdoor learning commons, creating a secure connection between the school’s main building and the west gymnasium and natatorium. A covered walkway would also provide a circulation path between the main building and the west gym and natatorium. Plans also call for a new classroom addition between the main building and LHS’ existing annex building.

Construction on Lawrence High is expected to begin in early 2019 and wrap up by August 2021. For outgoing school board president Shannon Kimball, who will remain on the board after turning over the presidency to Jessica Beeson next month, the LHS project has been a long time coming.

photo by: Contributed image/courtesy of Gould Evans

Design plans for Lawrence High School include a learning commons (located between the school’s core classrooms and a planned “innovation district” intended for hands-on courses such as art, robotics and video production) and project center for self-directed learning, both pictured here.

“I am really excited about, changewise, the thing that we’re doing at both of our high schools — this opening up of the media space and creating that as the heart of the building,” Kimball said. “Really making an academic space the focus of the life of the building, I think that’s really crucial.”

Now, as her time as school board president comes to a close, Kimball believes the $50.8 million LHS project will position the Lawrence district once again as a pioneer in K-12 education.

The district has long held a reputation for doing things first, for implementing progressive curricula and policies years ahead of its peers in other parts of the state.

“This is the kind of project that our district ought to be sharing as a model for how you can look at a building of that age and transform it to better meet the needs of your students,” Kimball said, adding, “I think the transformation of this building will be an opportunity for us to showcase that, I really do.”


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