School board approves expansion plan for elementary schools

The Lawrence school board agreed tonight to expand the scope of bond-funded construction projects by adding 12 more new classrooms at various elementary schools, plus unfinished space for another six classrooms in the future at Sunset Hill Elementary.

That brings to 29 the total number of new classrooms, or potential new classrooms, to be funded with the recently passed $92.5 million bond issue.

Those plans, district officials said, are the result of larger-than-expected enrollment growth this year, mainly at schools west of Iowa Street.

“One of the worst things we could do is conclude our bond construction process and not have enough room,” Superintendent Rick Doll said. Without the additional classrooms, he said, the time would soon come when some buildings would have to add temporary “mobile” classrooms or the district would have to seek voter approval for another bond issue.

One of the main purposes of the bond issue, he noted, was the desire to get rid of mobile classrooms currently used at some of the buildings.

“This is the right time to think about the number of elementary classrooms” the district needs, Doll said.

The original plan for the bond issue included adding a total of 11 new classrooms in elementary buildings. Some of those were to allow for growth, and some to eliminate mobile units.

But the plan approved tonight calls for 23 new classrooms, plus the addition of six unfinished “shell” spaces at Sunset Hill school that could be used for future growth as the district needs.

Doll said Sunset Hill was chosen for the shell space because of its central location at 9th and Schwartz Road. Adding room there, he said, would allow that building to absorb growth in neighboring attendance areas by adjusting boundaries of the attendance zones.

Assistant Superintendent Kyle Hayden said the biggest surprise in this year’s enrollment numbers was at Deerfield school, 101 Lawrence Ave., where enrollment jumped by 41 students – more than it had been projected to gain over the next five years. He said most of that growth came from new kindergarten enrollment.

That brings total enrollment at Deerfield this year to 511.

Originally, the district had not planned to add classrooms at Deerfield, but the revised plan now calls for adding three rooms there.

The plan also calls for adding three rooms at Sunflower, two each at Kennedy and Langston Hughes, and one each at Pinckney and Schwegler.

That will bring four of the district’s 14 elementary schools – Deerfield, Langston Hughes, Sunflower and Sunset Hill – up to the maximum size that district officials say they’re willing to accept for any one school: four full sections of each grade, K-5, for a total of 24 classrooms.

That means if those schools continue to grow, officials will have to consider either adjusting attendance boundaries or building additional schools.

“We may have to look at how to accommodate growth in other ways,” board vice president Shannon Kimble said.

In other business, the board:

• Agreed to sell 2.31 acres at Bob Billings Parkway and the South Lawrence Trafficway to the Kansas Department of Transportation for $173,250. KDOT is purchasing the land for a new interchange.

• Approved an owner-architect agreement with BG Consultants for design of bond-funded mechanical and electrical renovations at Quail Run, Sunflower, Prairie Park and Broken Arrow schools, as well as the four middle schools.

• Selected Nevius Serig Palmer Architecture of Overland Park as the lead architect, working in partnership with Sabatini Architects of Lawrence, for the planned new College and Technical Education Center.

• Gave preliminary approval to a revised set of board goals for the 2013-14 school year.