Updated Free State High School upgrades to focus on ‘fully integrated learning environment’

The plans for upgrades to Free State High School would move the school's library/media center to the center corridor on the second floor the school's east wing. The 5.2 million in upgrades to Free State are among the 7 million of improvements to the district's two high schools and four middle schools that the bond issue will fund.

The coming upgrades to Free State High School will be much different from those proposed in a master plan released last spring, but two Lawrence school board members say one important thing will remain the same: cost.

The master plan, which was released in February 2017 in advance of the May vote on the $87 million bond referendum, proposed that the Free State improvements would involve 18,490 square feet of new construction and 21,522 square feet of renovations. At a Dec. 11, 2017, Lawrence school board meeting, Kelly Dreyer, senior associate with the architectural firm Gould Evans Associates, shared a conceptual design that added 13,036 square feet of new construction and 47,319 square feet of renovated space.

Despite those differences, the cost of the Free State upgrades will remain the same, $15.2 million as projected in the master plan, said Lawrence school board president Shannon Kimball and board member Marcel Harmon, who serves on the board’s facilities committee. Harmon, who did not seek re-election, will leave the board this month.

“The biggest thing I was impressed with was it accomplished all the things we wanted with the bond, but they were able to do that in a way that will transform that school to a greater degree than we thought in pre-bond planning,” Kimball said. “To provide that flexibility and keep it within the master plan cost parameters, that’s the important thing.”

As the first of the projects in the $87 million bond issue, it is critical that the Free State project stays within budget, Kimball said. The board’s continued oversight and the awareness of the district’s bond construction manager, Kansas City, Mo.-based McCownGordon, of that need will help ensure that, Kimball said.

The plans for upgrades to Free State High School will connect the school's dining commons to a second-floor library/media center with media

The Free State changes were made as the result of interviews that Gould Evans architects conducted with the school’s students, faculty, administrators and parents, Dreyer said. Among the key features of the current conceptual design:

• The relocation of the Free State library/media center to the middle corridor on the second floor of the school’s eastern wing. The media center will be accessed from realigned stairways from the school’s dining commons.

• Relocation of the special education center and classrooms to what is now the school’s library/media center.

• The addition of eight new classrooms, which is one more than needed to achieve the goal of accommodating an enrollment of 2,000 students.

• The addition of a 3,000-square-foot fitness and cardiovascular center to the school’s north side.

• Redesigned locker rooms and showers that provide greater student privacy.

The relocation of the library/media center was made when a survey found a large number of Free State students didn’t use the library, Dreyer said. The design has a number of features that make it more appealing for students and that provide greater flexibility to meet various needs.

“We’re trying to create a fully integrated learning environment used eight hours a day,” Dreyer said.

The library/media center’s design also provides what may become the trademark feature: the “media stairs.” The feature will provide seven levels of ascending platforms between two staircases connecting the school’s dining commons and the second-floor media center. Dreyer said the media stairs could hold from 50 to 100 students and be a place for social gatherings, classes or special projects.

The media center would be laid out in the second-floor corridor so that the more active areas are near the front and quiet areas are in the back, Dreyer said. Among its features would be a space with a large audio-visual display with seating for 12, a group project center with printers and a sink, a group study area and a private study area. It also would have breakout areas for smaller group meetings, he said.

Those private small group breakout areas would be repeated throughout the school, Dreyer said. Room for the breakout hallway niches is available because students need less locker space now with the introduction of MacBooks at the school, he said.

Converting the old media center for special education use would provide direct sunlight now lacking in special education classrooms, Kimball said. It would also have enough space to provide the laundry, shower and kitchen facilities required for some special needs students, she said.

Finally, the new special education center would allow a greater integration of the rest of the school’s population with special needs students, she said.

Although it will be about four months before plans needed for the construction of Free State upgrades are ready, the conceptual design shared with the board is “very close” to what would be built, Dreyer said.

One area of further study would be the design of private changing areas in locker rooms, Dreyer said. The conceptual design does show the replacement of the current group showers with individual shower stalls.

Work to start next fall

At the Dec. 11 meeting, Kyle Hayden, district chief operations officer, said work would start “full force” on Free State next fall, continue through the school year and finish in early August 2019. Typically, projects start with new construction because that allows the newly built spaces to be used when renovations start, he said.

Kimball and Harmon said the Free State upgrades were scheduled earlier than the improvements to Lawrence High School because of the added time needed to develop designs for the $50.8 million in upgrades planned for the older LHS. The Free State design does provide a little foreshadowing of what will be included at LHS, they said.

“I would expect the media center to have some degree of prominence,” Harmon said. “It’s not going to look the same, because it’s a different building, but I’m excited about the possibilities that exist there.”