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Lawrence school board asked to weigh real estate options

The Lawrence school district owns quite a bit of undeveloped real estate in town, some of which may be needed in the near future for new elementary or middle schools.

That was one of the messages Monday afternoon as the board — including its two new members, Adina Morse and Kristie Adair — engaged with administrators in a "goal-setting" workshop. No decisions were made about any of the properties, but it's an issue the board is likely to address, maybe multiple times, in the coming year or two.

The property likely to get the most attention in the near future is a 34-acre tract near 15th and George Williams Way, just south of Langston Hughes school.

It's also adjacent to a planned new interchange with the South Lawrence Trafficway, and directly abuts the site of upcoming residential and commercial developments known as Langston Heights and Langston Commons which will add an estimated 229 residential housing units to the area.

Superintendent Rick Doll told board members Monday that they need to think about how they'd like to use that property. Some of the obvious options on the list include expanding Langston Hughes, which is already close to capacity; building a new elementary school; or building a new middle school.

"It's not uncommon, especially in suburban areas, for elementary schools to sit side by side," Doll said. It's basically a matter of drawing attendance zones around them.

Not far from the Langston-area property, the school district also owns a 50-acre tract on the west side of the trafficway. Doll said the new interchange is likely to spur even more development on that end of town, and that parcel may also be needed for future expansion.

On the southeast end of town, the district owns a 76-acre tract south of 23rd Street, near the spot where the new extension of the SLT will connect with Kansas Highway 10.

Doll noted the district owns two small parcels of land that probably won't ever be needed for any kind of expansion.

One of those, oddly enough, is a small Civil War-era cemetery north of Interstate 70, just east of Michigan Street. Somehow, the district acquired it during the massive school consolidation process in the 1960s when the old Riverside district was merged into Lawrence.

Doll said the cemetery is only accessible by walking through private property in the residential area that has built up next to it. Neighbors evidently are fond of it and use it as a walking trail. Doll suggested it might be a good idea to deed that property over to the neighborhood or some other organization.

Finally, he said, the district owns one parcel on a residential block along 14th Street, just north of Liberty Memorial Central Middle School. At one time, he said, it was thought the school might want a full football stadium and oval track that would stretch across 14th Street. But he said city officials are not keen on the idea of closing the street, and so that plan is unlikely ever to come to fruition.

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