Bad weather created scheduling woes for local graduations, but using Allen Fieldhouse would have cost $12K per ceremony

photo by: Mike Yoder

Free State High School graduates walk in a strong wind at the commencement ceremonies on Thursday, May 26, 2022, at Free State High School's stadium.

A $12,000 usage fee and a mid-May deadline to reserve Allen Fieldhouse both were factors the Lawrence school district faced when trying to use the KU building for a backup location for graduation ceremonies this week.

Plus, district officials really want to have high school graduations at the actual high schools whenever possible, a district spokeswoman said.

“We know from previous years that our students and staff prefer graduations be held in their high school stadiums,” Julie Boyle, spokeswoman for Lawrence Public Schools, said via email.

But with no building on the high school campuses large enough to accommodate the graduating classes and the large crowd of onlookers, the school district in many years has shifted the graduations for Lawrence High or Free State to Allen Fieldhouse when bad weather makes it impossible to have the ceremonies outdoors on their scheduled days.

This year, however, bad weather forced the postponement of both LHS and Free State graduations. Instead of using Allen Fieldhouse, the district pushed the dates back by two days for both schools. The result has put the graduations in conflict with some state competitions that athletes from the two schools are participating in, and has caused out-of-town spectators and others to adjust their plans. The district is going with a later-than-normal 7:30 p.m. start time for tonight’s LHS graduation to try to better accommodate those scheduling challenges.

Boyle, however, noted that the school district did publish the back-up dates for the graduation ceremonies more than a month in advance and communicated those dates for planning purposes to the high school communities.

As for why the ceremonies couldn’t simply be held on their original dates by shifting indoors to Allen Fieldhouse, a KU Athletics spokesman told the Journal-World earlier this week that KU needed to know by May 12 whether the district wanted to use the fieldhouse for graduation ceremonies. KU Athletics said neither high school met the deadline, which was required in order to give KU enough time find a crew of workers to staff the building on those dates.

On Friday, Boyle confirmed that the district did not reach out to KU until after the deadline.

“As we moved closer to the week of May 23, weather forecasts looked bleak,” Boyle said via email. “District staff reached out to KU and learned that Allen Fieldhouse was not available.”

Boyle didn’t provide specifics on why the district did not reach out earlier, but noted that the use of Allen Fieldhouse costs $12,000 per school. The district has been dealing with a round of budget cuts.

Boyle didn’t reference the budget cuts as a reason in her email, and she also didn’t express any misgivings about the KU fee.

“The district appreciates its long-standing partnership with KU,” Boyle said via email.

She also said district leaders were pleased that seniors from both schools were getting graduation ceremonies in their home stadiums.

“Free State hosted a joyous celebration last night,” Boyle said via email Friday afternoon. “We expect the same at LHS tonight.” 


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