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Lawrence High plans set stage for battle
It won't be all fun and games on Wednesday evening when Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners meet to discuss proposed improvements to Lawrence High School sports fields. It is likely planning commissioners will disappoint one of two powerful groups in this community - neighbors or parents. Here's what's going on: Lawrence school district leaders want to make major additions to the Lawrence High campus at 19th and Louisiana, and also to the former Centennial School site just south of the high school at 2145 La. Proposed improvements include converting the current practice football field and track into a 4,000-seat competition venue complete with lights and a sound system. A new softball field also would be built south of the football and track complex in an area where the band currently practices. Also on tap is a new competition baseball field on the Centennial property, and the relocation of eight tennis courts from LHS to the former Centennial site. The relocation of the tennis complex will allow for 322 additional parking spaces to be constructed on the LHS campus. Planning commissioners meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. You might want to get there early to get a seat. The plans have sparked an early-season clash of the titans. On one side there are neighbors who live near the high school. They're concerned the improvements - many of which will use artificial turf - will create drainage problems, and could create problems with noise and light. On the other side are parents of athletes who have started a campaign urging city leaders to approve the projects. Some of the parents have children competing at LHS, while others have students at Free State High. School district leaders have a separate project proposed to add lights, bleachers and other amenities to fields at Free State. Some parents have expressed concern that if the LHS/Centennial proposal fails to win approval, that the district will drop the Free State plans.Somewhere in all this are school district leaders who say the improvements are needed to make extra-curricular opportunities at the two high schools more equitable. Many students at LHS have to travel off campus to practice their sports. The bottomline is that city leaders will be presented with dueling petitions. According to documents on file with the planning department, neighbors have petitions with about 75 signatures expressing concern about the LHS/Centennial projects. Parents have submitted petitions with about 80 signatures supporting the project. In this community, neighborhood groups and parent organizations normally hold large sway with decision-makers. Both groups generally win more than they lose when they go before the powers-to-be. But on Wednesday, it looks like one side may go away unhappy. Planning commissioners will get the first, but certainly not the last chance, to serve as referees. Ultimately, city commissioners will have to decide whether to grant the projects the necessary special-use permits. So, what do you think? Does the school district need better sports fields? What do you think of a world where Lawrence High would no longer play football at Haskell Stadium? What do you think of trying to add new sports fields in the middle of an established neighborhood?