Veritas Christian School plans to build new campus south of Lawrence
photo by: Chris Conde
Look for a whole new high school campus to develop just south of Lawrence. No, you didn’t sleep through a school bond election. This plan is coming from one of Lawrence’s growing private schools.
Veritas Christian School has filed plans to build an approximately 20,000-square-foot gymnasium and classroom building on property about three miles south of the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Brian Pine, president of the school board for Veritas, said the new building will provide a new home for Veritas’ basketball and volleyball programs, and also will include classrooms for high school students. Veritas has purchased eight acres of property at the intersection of East 1300 Road — which is old Highway 59 — and North 968 Road. Pine said the school expects to construct additional school buildings on the property.
“We long to have our gym space and really just want to have our own campus setting,” Pine said. “This is a start of what would be our future campus.”
If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it currently is pasture land. It is on the west side of U.S. Highway 59 and abuts the old Highway 59, which has become a county road. The site is a little more than a quarter-mile south of Douglas County Route 458.
Enrollment growth, which has picked up steam over the last five years or so, is driving the desire for a new campus. The school currently operates out of a converted church building at 256 N. Michigan St. Pine said enrollment for the K-12 school has grown to about 180 students.
“We are starting to have waiting lists on certain grade levels,” Pine said.
Pine said the school’s smaller class sizes and Christian-based education are some of the school’s draws, but so are its athletic programs, which are small enough that they don’t require tryouts or player cuts like larger schools have to do. But Veritas largely has used borrowed space to host its home games. For years, the school used the gym at the recreation center in Eudora, but has recently begun using the East Lawrence Recreation Center. At times, the school’s baseball team played home games in Ottawa, but now has a deal to use Ice Field at the Holcom Sports Complex in Lawrence.
Pine, though, said having facilities the school can call its own is important.
“Our students desire and really deserve to feel proud about the campus they call their school and home,” Pine said. “We want to create that type of pride and excitement at the school.”
The first phase of the project will include the gym and classroom space. Pine said phase one is designed to accommodate Veritas’ high school program, which numbers about 12 to 18 students per grade. Future plans call for adding industrial arts space at the location, more fine arts offerings, a baseball field and, further into the future, a football field. The school currently plays its football games at a field at Lawrence First Church of the Nazarene, which is only about two miles east of the new school site.
The school is funding the new building through private fundraising that has involved school families, area businesses and alumni, Pine said. A dollar amount for the new project wasn’t released or included as part of the plans filed with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.
Pine, though, said fundraising has gone well. He said more than 90 percent of the needed funds has been raised for the first phase, and he hopes they’ll be able to start raising funds for phase two in the near future.
The site already is properly zoned to house the school building, but it still needs to win some technical planning approvals before construction can begin. Pine said he hopes construction will begin in the first half of 2019, and that the building could be open by the start of the next school year.
The project comes as Veritas is celebrating its 40th year of existence. For the first couple of decades, the school was known as the Douglas County Christian School. It changed its name, though, about 25 years ago and has been at its current location on North Michigan Street for about 20 years, Pine said.
Veritas’ project continues a trend of expansion of private schools in Lawrence. St. John’s, a private Catholic school in Lawrence, last year undertook a more than $3 million expansion that included a new gymnasium and performing arts space. As we’ve reported, Bishop Seabury — a Lawrence-based sixth- through 12th-grade private school — filed plans earlier this year to add about 30,000 square feet of space that would allow the school to grow its enrollment to about 250 students.
Pine said Veritas certainly is seeing families that have an interest in the private school environment for their children. Smaller class sizes are part of the appeal, he said.
“With our size, we can maybe do some things classwise that are a little extra-special touch for students,” Pine said.
But incorporating faith into the school’s curriculum is also a big selling point.
“We are intentionally a nondenominational school,” Pine said. “I think we have students from about 32 different churches in the area. But faith is part of every single class that is taught at Veritas. It is a big part of our sports programs, too. Having faith as part of the education is something that a lot of families long for, I think.”