Plans for hundreds of new homes have advanced since school district received projections for declining enrollment and proposed to close schools
photo by: RSP
Though enrollment projections provided to the Lawrence school board in January predicted that the district would lose about 300 students over the next five years, a few new residential developments have moved forward since then that could affect those numbers.
The district hired RSP & Associates to complete the enrollment projections, which along with increasing costs and a goal to identify funding for staff raises, are a key consideration in the district’s budget deliberations and discussions surrounding potential closures of Broken Arrow and Pinckney elementary schools. Collectively, the three developments could add anywhere from about 100 to 200 students to the district, according to calculations the Journal-World made using RSP’s estimation methods.
Some parents who question the district’s recommendation to close schools say the new residential developments — as well as additional anticipated growth related to the new Panasonic plant under construction in nearby De Soto — show that the district’s recommendation to close schools is “short-sighted.”
“While board members continue to talk about needing long-term solutions and ‘not wanting band-aids,’ school closures are just that,” said Lawrence parent Alicia Erickson, an organizer of the community group Save Our Schools 497. She said the new developments “highlight how short-sighted closing schools really is.”
Melody Alexander, another parent involved with the Save Our Schools group, said the group has raised concerns about potential growth as a result of the Panasonic plant, which she thought was a missing component in the analysis.
“When we specifically asked about numbers from the Panasonic plant, we were told it wouldn’t be a factor for many years,” Alexander said.
The Journal-World reached out to Robert Schwarz, of RSP & Associates, regarding whether the annexations and developments could significantly impact the five-year enrollment projections RSP provided to the school board in January. Schwarz did not respond to the newspaper’s email, which was sent Wednesday morning, but at a meeting of the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee on Wednesday evening, Schwarz did bring up the topic to the committee. He said that RSP had been watching the developments, some of which they didn’t see happening in the “near term,” and that RSP did not believe they would shift the enrollment projections significantly.
When Schwarz originally presented the enrollment projections to the school board on Jan. 9, he noted that while the analysis considers birth rates, student migration trends (students leaving/entering the district), past development trends and anticipated new developments, there were some unknowns. While discussing a map included with the report that showed where current housing development is occurring and where it is projected to occur within the next five and 10 years, Schwarz said that those patterns may change if people who own land decide to develop it.
“It’s not all-encompassing; it changes as the people who own land may want to develop,” Schwarz told the board at the Jan. 9 meeting.
RSP projected that the overall enrollment in the district would decrease by 318 students, to about 9,570 students, by the 2027-28 school year, or by about 3.3%. Elementary enrollment is expected to decrease by 24 students over the next five years (-0.5%), middle school enrollment by 128 students (-5.9%), and high school enrollment by 166 students (-5%). As far as anticipated development in Lawrence, the projections identified an additional 1,800 potential housing units in the next 10 years, but the report stated that the majority of the units are anticipated in the five- to 10-year range, “which is a limiting factor in immediate enrollment growth.”
Schwarz told the board at the Jan. 9 meeting that while growth related to the Panasonic plant — which is projected to add 4,000 direct jobs at the plant and 4,000 indirect jobs to the area — will bring changes, those impacts were also “not quite known,” though he said the plant could represent an incredible opportunity for the district.
“We think there’s going to be some changes, not quite known what the impact of Panasonic and what that may mean for future residential, specifically on the east side,” Schwarz said. “So that’s something we’ll want to keep watching, because that may be something that pops in a way that right now, at the time of the study, we’re not fully confident in knowing what that impact might be.”
However, following that statement, Schwarz reiterated that RSP projected that growth would occur outside of the five-year enrollment projection period, “toward five years and beyond.” In the three months since then, the Lawrence City Commission has approved two annexation requests to add land to the city boundaries and economic incentives for a mixed-use development on the University of Kansas West Campus in central Lawrence.
Details about those developments and the potential students they could add to the district, based on RSP’s estimation methods, are as follows. Specifically, RSP’s enrollment projection report states that the district sees on average 35 students per 100 single-family households and 15 students per 100 multifamily households.
-The Crossing’s “multigenerational” housing development on West Campus: The development anticipates approximately 200 units in the first of two multi-family buildings planned for the first phase of the project, according to KU Endowment Senior Vice President Monte Soukup. Soukup said construction could begin as early as 2024 on the first building, though the asset developer, not KU Endowment, ultimately drives the timeline. He said how fast the first apartment building is occupied and stabilized will determine when the next one will likely be constructed. The Journal-World calculated that the first building would generate approximately 30 students based on RSP’s average multifamily yield rate.
-The Crossing’s affordable housing component: KU Endowment will be donating 1.5 acres to Tenants to Homeowners to build affordable housing. TTHO Executive Director Rebecca Buford said the number of units depends on street design and requirements of the city’s development code, which is currently being updated with a goal of increasing density and affordability and will be adopted in 2024. Buford, who is on the committee working to update the code, said a less dense option would be nine to 18 units of homes for ownership, but TTHO is hoping that as part of the development code update, the city looks toward “missing middle” building types — cottage communities, townhomes, bungalow courts, row homes and carriage houses — that would allow for 24 to 52 units of housing. Buford said the hope is to have the homes built within the next five years. She added that given school needs, TTHO would certainly want to have some family units, but a single parent with one child can also use this type of housing. If denser housing types are adopted as anticipated, the Journal-World calculated that the development would generate about eight to 18 students based on the average single-family yield rate.
-The New Boston Crossing at the intersection of the South Lawrence Trafficway and U.S. Highway 59: A preliminary concept plan for the development includes 141 lots of single-family homes and townhomes. The Journal-World reached out to the developer about the construction timeline and will update this report if a response is received. The Journal-World calculated that the development, which is directly south of the city, would generate about 50 students based on the average single-family yield rate.
-Northwest Lawrence development located east of Kansas Highway 10 and south of North 1750 Road: Plans call for more than 300 homes to be built in the northwestern Lawrence subdivision. A representative of the developer, David Hamby, of BG Consultants, said he was working closely with the owner and the city to develop a schedule for the project, but that one was not yet finalized. Students would be in the Perry-Lecompton school district but could transfer to the Lawrence school district under new open enrollment legislation that goes into effect in the 2024-2025 school year. The Journal-World calculated that 300 homes would generate about 105 students based on the average single-family yield rate.
Overall, the total number of possible new students from the aforementioned developments, based on RSP average student yield rates for the type of development, would be 193 to 203 students, if including all the potential transfers from the 300-plus homes in the Perry-Lecompton district (and not including the second multifamily building at The Crossing). Without any transfers, that number decreases to 88 to 98 students.
Erickson said she thought potential transfers into the district once open enrollment goes into effect are also relevant to successful planning. She expressed concern that closing schools and increasing the number of students in school buildings could jeopardize potential opportunities to gain new students in 2024 once the new legislation goes into effect.
“In just over a year we have an opportunity to increase our enrollment with innovation, by sharing our success stories of amazing teachers and staff, and welcoming people from outside of the district,” she said. “But none of that can be done if we are maxing out capacity at so many buildings and don’t have the space to welcome students.”
The public hearing for the potential closure of Broken Arrow will take place from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday in the Broken Arrow school gymnasium. The public hearing for the potential closure of Pinckney will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday in the Pinckney school gymnasium.