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Economic development board questions whether new vo-tech campus ought to be located on former Farmland Industries site


When voters go to the polls in April, they may have junior college on their minds just a bit. That’s because about $5.7 million of the Lawrence Public School district’s proposed $92.5 million bond issue would go towards bringing together three area community colleges to create a new campus for vocational and technical training.

For one group of voters, though, the idea will be on their minds more than just a bit. Economic development leaders have made the idea of a new technical training center one of their higher priorities.

On Friday morning it started to become clear that some eco devo leaders may want to see the plans for the new technical center changed some.

Doug Gaumer — chair of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's board — raised a question at the meeting of the Lawrence-Douglas County Joint Economic Development Council: Why isn’t the school district planning on building its new vocational and technical training center on a portion of the former Farmland Industries site along Kansas Highway 10 in eastern Lawrence?

Currently, the school district has been focusing on refurbishing an existing school district building — commonly known as the Community Connection Center — which is sort of hidden a couple of blocks west of 25th and Iowa streets. Current plans call for Johnson County, Kansas City and Neosho County community colleges to provide classes at the location.

Gaumer said he was concerned about whether that location would be visible enough and convenient enough for employers who want to send employees to the center for training.

“I’m afraid we wouldn’t get any play off of that location,” said Gaumer, who is the president for the local Intrust Bank locations in Lawrence. “It would be good to have it next to more businesses.”

That’s why the former Farmland property might be a good location, Gaumer said. The city is working to convert the approximately 400-acre former fertilizer plant into a business and industrial park. The property has high visibility along K-10 highway.

The Joint Economic Development Council was more in a brainstorming mode today than a decision-making mode, so the group didn’t take any action on the idea.

But I got the impression that this might be an idea that starts gaining some momentum, or at least causes economic development leaders to ask the school district to consider changing plans.

City Manager David Corliss said he suspects the City Commission would be open to listening to any request for the school district to use a portion of the Farmland property for a vo-tech/community college branch location. The Farmland property has about 200 acres that can be redeveloped, and the vo-tech campus would only require a small portion of it.

The bigger issue may be whether the $5.7 million currently included in the proposed bond issue would be enough to accommodate an entirely new building. I believe the district was planning on doing more renovating rather than new construction on this project.

But the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce continues to talk about the need for additional vocational training as being one of the community’s top economic development priorities. The chamber also continues to explore the feasibility of a multimillion-dollar, multiyear private fundraising campaign for economic development initiatives. It will be interesting to see if there’s any talk of private fundraising being used to help build a more ambitious vocational school.


Keith 5 years, 3 months ago

If the chamber wants to get the captains of industry to pay for building the school to train their future employees, I say change the plan. If not, well we already have a building we can use, no need to build another place we'd have to maintain.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Remember it is the Chamber of Commerce that somehow got USD 497 to blow $20 million of OUR public school tax dollars on the PLAY athletic project. The C of C is home to reckless spenders of other people's money.

The selling point of a Vo- Tech facility is the quality of services and education not whether or not it is on a high visibility roadway.

There is a lot of concern about putting anything such as a school on that Farmland Property BECAUSE the property became a toxic waste site.

Farmland is industrial in nature and that's the way it should be. If Farmland was not going to stand on its' own city hall should not have purchased the site. Otherwise taxpayers have been mislead. Where are the tenants?

USD 497 does not need outside sources deciding how to spend USD 497 tax dollars. Not only that USD 497 is making use of existing resources which is fiscally smart spending. Hats off to this board. This bond issue looks good as it is and the money is being spent in a fiscally responsible manner. Again hats off to the USD 497.

A Vo-Tech campus does not need high visibility to be successful. I've attended two during my lifetime in different states and both were anything but high visibility. One was on property owned by a public school district and the other on property owned by a Junior College. Neither school had a problem attracting students.

The selling point of a Vo- Tech facility is the quality of services and education not whether or not it is on a high visibility roadway.

no_thanks 5 years, 3 months ago

This is a community asset in which there are other partners besides the school district. Why wouldn't we want a discussion of identifying the a location that provides greater visibility, is economically feasible, and may kick start another community asset in Farmland (whether you are fan of the City owning Farmland or not is irrelevant as the decision has been made, now the decision is how do we optimize its value).

pace 5 years, 3 months ago

If we build it, we would make a huge investment, it would be worth it if the Koch lackey Brownback didn't swoop down and destroy it. He has confiscated, killed, or starved infrastructures designed to encourage education and training for the working families. Our resources are being converted or destroyed by Brownback on almost every level across the state. Build new infrastructure? We would be fools to invest in any asset as long as Brownback and cronies can get their hands on it or their fingers in the pie. We are losing the fight, I am watching the destruction of infrastructure built up by generations of Kansans. what our grandparents worked to support, what our parents worked, and what we support, services and infrastructure that took decades to build is disappearing. my energy and monies will be going to restoring Kansas rather than building one more effort for Brownback's gang to reap.

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 3 months ago

Lets see here: amidst a general community feeling that the previous bond issue was misallocated, or at the very least spent in a non-transparent fashion, and in the midst of a public disclosure that you are sitting on over $50 million cash in reserve and less than 60 days before the public is set to vote you realize that perhaps your plan is going to be either ineffective or unachievable with $92 million in public "tax-free" dollars. Well, I can see no reason why the community might be hesitant to vote "yes". The real question for the economic forecasters will be, how many years post-bond issue passing will the district re-open talks of shutting down the very buildings we just poured money into.

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 3 months ago

So lets tally this whole thing up: amidst a general feeling in the community that the previous bond issue was misallocated or at the very least spent in a non-transparent fashion, and amidst the recent public disclosure that the district is sitting on over $50 million in cash, and only 60 days before the election we find that we haven't actually reached consensus on how the money will be spent with economic forecasters projecting the current plan won't work and the other proposal may require more funding than the $92 million being asked for provides, we are supposed to get the community to vote "yes"? The real question for the economic forecasters is how soon after the $92 million in "tax free" community money is spent will we re-open talks about closing down the very schools we just pumped money into? Reminds me of the time I had to pay to fix my furnace just so I'd have heat for the 4 days while I waited for my new furnace to arrive and be installed.

Phil Minkin 5 years, 3 months ago

The chamber's interest is to have a tenant in this park that they can use to try to attract others. The Iowa St location is easily accessible by bus, close to business and professional facilities and would not require the wait and expense of building a new structure.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

This new chamber concept is not in the budget nor is it considered in the bond issue. So leave it be.

If the powers that be cannot find commercial tax paying tenants they should not be in the business. And should refrain from implying that they are capable of doing so.

And it is not up to the school district to bail out this risky affair. The school district identified an available property which is smart business and quite savvy. Let's get on with it.

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