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Posts tagged with Bond Construction

School board notes: AVID; weeds; Langston Hughes project

The Lawrence school board meeting Monday night was dominated by discussion of the school finance bill that state lawmakers recently passed, but Gov. Sam Brownback is still yet to sign or veto.

But there was other activity worthy of note, much of it buried on the consent agenda, meaning there was no discussion because they were matters the board had discussed previously. Among the more significant items:

• AVID expanding to middle school: "Advancement Via Individual Determination" is a college-readiness program designed mainly for students who need a little extra push to help them get ready. It includes an elective course for what might be called "C" students, or those in the academic middle, as well as under-served populations that often aren't represented in college prep courses, especially immigrant students and those who would be the first in their families ever to go to college.

Lawrence schools implemented the program in both high schools and district officials say it has been successful. Starting next year, it will also be available in each of the four middle schools. That will involve spending $53,428 this year for start-up costs, including membership fees and library materials.

• Turf, tree and landscape management: Last month, the board deferred action on a proposed landscape management plan, mainly over concerns about the use (or non-use) of fertilizers and herbicides in residential areas.

The district maintains more than 135 acres of lawn scattered throughout the city, and in a town like Lawrence it's an issue that can cause friction with residential neighbors either way. In some neighborhoods, residents are vehemently opposed to spraying chemicals for any number of reasons. And in other areas, neighbors get upset if the schools don't spray for weeds because that means the dandelions will just spread onto their property.

So the new policy tries to thread the needle by leaving the decision up to school site councils. They'll be able to opt for: (A) Organic fertilizers only; (B) No fertilizer and herbicides, either organic or EPA registered; or (C) EPA registered fertilizers and herbicides.

• Langston Hughes project: This will be one of the first construction and remodeling projects to be started as part of the district's recent $92.5 million bond issue. Construction is scheduled to get underway this month. McCown Gordon Construction is the "construction manager at risk" on the package of projects that includes Langston Hughes, meaning they are in charge of hiring contractors, overseeing the project and bringing it in within budget.

The initial budget for that project, which includes adding two new classrooms, was just over $2.9 million. But when bids were received April 1, they came in a little higher than expected, with a guaranteed maximum price of $2,938,387, which includes a 5-percent contingency for unforeseen events that may crop up later. As a result, the board approved a contract amendment reflecting the $18,176 increase.

Assistant Superintendent Kyle Hayden, however, said he is confident the overall bond-funded construction program will remain within the budget.

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Lawrence schools at a tipping point

The Lawrence school district is fast reaching the point where it needs to make some decisions about how to handle future growth.

That was a common thread running through a number of discussions at the school board meeting Monday night. Much of it was brought on by the sudden and unexpected enrollment growth the grade schools are seeing this year, especially on the city's west side.

This may be an uncomfortable conversation for some people in the district. After all, it was only a few years ago when Lawrence closed the Wakarusa and East Heights grade schools. And more recently, there was serious talk about closing and consolidating older schools on the east side to save money and make more efficient use of space.

But the public ultimately balked at that idea. People in Lawrence like their small neighborhood schools, and there seems to be no desire to shift toward so-called "mega schools" at the elementary level.

The result of those conversations was the $92.5 million bond issue that voters just approved in April.

Then came the first day of school this year, and the enrollment numbers really caught officials off guard - not the overall growth, so much, as the places where it occurred. But even looking at the district-wide numbers, it's clear the Lawrence district is close to reaching a tipping point where it will have to make some hard choices.

According to the latest projections from the district's consultant, RSP and Associates, total elementary enrollment has increased by 127 students over the past two years. Between now and the 2017-18 school year, they project another 233 students. That's 360 students additional over six years, or basically one entire average-size grade school.

And it's only a matter of time until those 360 elementary students move on to middle school and high school. Right now, South and Southwest middle schools, as well as Free State High School, are close to being filled to capacity.

Based on discussions across several agenda items at Monday's board meeting, here are some of the grand policy questions the district will soon have to grapple with:

Boundaries: Board president Rick Ingram says the district needs a clearer policy about studying, and possibly making adjustments to, attendance zone boundaries on an ongoing basis. While some buildings are expected to grow beyond their capacity over the next few years, others still have excess room. A nip here and a tuck there could prevent, or at least delay, the need for costly new construction in the future. But Superintendent Rick Doll says that will only get you so far, unless you want to draw boundaries that require small children to have to walk across 23rd Street or Iowa Street during rush hour.

"Mega schools": Nobody seems to like them, and it's nice living in a town with small, neighborhood schools where the teachers and parents all know each other and there is a real sense of community. Board vice president Shannon Kimball indicated she has no desire to move in that direction. But at what cost does the district stay with the small-school approach?

Build more small schools: It may have seemed unrelated at the time, but one of the other things the board did Monday was sell 2.31 acres of land to the state to make way for a South Lawrence Trafficway interchange at Bob Billings Parkway. That's right next door to Langston Hughes school, the largest, and soon-to-be over-capacity, grade school in the district.

The interchange is needed because of new development in that area that is already being planned, and some people expect the interchange itself will spur even more new development west of the SLT. Add to that the SLT extension about to be built on the southeast side, which no doubt will spur even more commercial and residential development, and you have the makings of two large, new growth areas.

If the idea of "mega schools" is off the table, at some point the district has to look at building at least a couple new grade schools, and probably another middle school as well.

Closer planning: Board member Keith Diaz Moore - who surely set a long-distance record for telecommuting to a board meeting because he was took part via Skype while on sabbatical in Sweden - suggested the district might be overreacting to a one-time spike in enrollment. Go ahead and build the new rooms the district knows it needs right now, he suggested, but hold off on the others until we see some more reliable long-term enrollment trends.

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