Plans officially filed for city’s $100M-plus public works complex in eastern Lawrence

photo by: City of Lawrence/CFS Engineers

A conceptual rendering is shown for the city of Lawrence's Field Operations Campus planned for eastern Lawrence.

The wheels are officially turning on a nearly $125 million City of Lawrence project. And, there really are a lot of wheels involved with this one.

City officials recently filed for a special use permit that will allow the city to build its new “field operations campus” — perhaps better thought of as a large public works complex — at VenturePark in eastern Lawrence. Eventually, the site will have everything from snow plows to trash trucks and a whole lot of other city vehicles.

We’ve reported on the city’s plans off and on for the last several years. But now the city has taken a tangible step toward building the project. It has filed for a special use permit that, once approved by the Planning Commission and City Commission, will allow for excavation work and other construction to begin.

Given that step — and since its price tag will make it one of the most consequential projects underway in the city — I thought it might be good to go over what the city has planned. Here’s a look.

Location: The project will be at VenturePark, which is the site of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant at 23rd and O’Connell in eastern Lawrence. But the public works facility won’t be on a part of the property that you see from 23rd Street. Instead, if you have ever taken 15th Street extended — known as North 1500 Road outside the city limits — you’ve driven right by the site. Perhaps you have seen a big, long, skinny, old warehouse building that sits along the railroad tracks. The public works complex will be built on vacant ground south and east of that building.

Timeline: While the project could have its formal development approvals in the next three or four months, construction on the complex won’t be in full swing until 2025, Andy Ensz, engineering program manager for the city of Lawrence told me. Ensz said there may be some work visible on the site in 2023, though, as work will continue to clean up the site, which has significant environmental problems related to the time when it was a fertilizer plant. In 2024, there will be quite a bit of excavation and road work underway, he said, and 2025 is when building construction will be in full gear.

photo by: City of Lawrence/CFS Engineers

A general site layout for the city’s Field Operations Campus proposed for eastern Lawrence is shown in this document included in the city’s application for a special use permit.

The buildings: The project will involve construction of four new buildings or structures, plus a couple of storage areas and large parking lots. That’s down from an original plan that called for seven new buildings and structures. As we reported in June, the city downsized the plan after concerns were raised by neighbors. It also moved the largest building in the complex to the east, giving it greater distance from the neighborhood. Here’s a look at the buildings and their estimated date of construction.

Municipal Services and Operations building: Initially, the MSO building will be just under 59,000 square feet, spread out over two floors. The building will include a mix of office, shop and vehicle storage space. The building will house departments that currently have locations scattered throughout the community. Those include the street division, the storm water division, the traffic division, the construction management and development division, the GIS team, water engineers, and a host of public works administrators who currently have offices at City Hall. The building would be constructed as part of Phase 1 of the project, meaning construction would begin in 2025 and be completed in 2026, Ensz said. However, there could be a second act for the building. The official plans show a nearly 150,000-square-foot expansion of the building, which would be designed to store vehicles and other expensive equipment that the city would prefer not to leave outside. The plans list that expansion in Phase 4, which is not well defined. It would be sometime after 2027, and is the least certain of any of the phases in the project.

photo by: City of Lawrence/CFS Engineers

A conceptual rendering is shown for the city of Lawrence’s Field Operations Campus planned for eastern Lawrence.

Fueling station: The complex will become the location where lots of city vehicles will get their gasoline and diesel. Currently, a city-owned fueling station near 11th and Haskell serves that role. Plans call for a nearly 12,000-square-foot fueling station, which I’m calling a structure rather than a building because a lot of it will be open air. It is planned for the first phase, with construction in 2025.

Central maintenance garage: This will be the location where all types of city vehicles — from fire trucks to backhoes — get maintenance and repairs. Currently, the city operates such a garage near 11th and Haskell. Plans call for the new garage to be just under 75,000 square feet, spread over two floors. It is scheduled to be built in Phase 2, which means construction likely would start in late 2026 and be finished at some point in 2027, Ensz said.

Solid waste: This is the building that all the drivers and crews for the city’s trash, recycling and yard waste trucks report to each day. Currently, that early-morning fun happens at a facility at 11th and Haskell. Plans call for the building to be just more than 50,000 square feet on a single floor. It is scheduled to be built in the project’s third phase, which is set for 2027, Ensz said.

Other buildings: The site already has two existing buildings that are left from the days when the fertilizer plant was in operation. A bag warehouse and a bulk warehouse are both being used for miscellaneous storage currently. Ensz said the large bag warehouse — it is the one along the railroad track and near 15th Street extended — probably can be used for the long term. The smaller bulk warehouse probably would be demolished due to condition problems once other buildings are constructed. Plans also call for a couple of salt storage bays, a yard to store piping and other such areas.

Parking: Plans call for a little more than 300 parking spaces for staff, which gives you an idea of how many city employees are going to be located at this complex. Those spaces are in addition to the 109 spaces for sanitation trucks, plus the indoor storage space for city vehicles.

photo by: City of Lawrence/CFS Engineers

A conceptual rendering is shown for the city of Lawrence’s Field Operations Campus planned for eastern Lawrence.

Traffic: Indeed, the idea of all those vehicles coming into and out of the complex has been a major worry for residents who live near the site. The complex will technically have three ways in and out, but Ensz said that plans call for a single entrance and exit to be used most often. Ensz said normal operations will use O’Connell Road and 23rd Street to access the property. But the property will also be served by 19th Street, which recently was expanded to stretch to VenturePark and tie into O’Connell Road. But Ensz said crews will be given instructions not to use 19th Street to enter or exit the complex, unless their work involves serving areas near 19th Street. For instance, trash trucks servicing northwest Lawrence will be directed to use 23rd Street to exit and enter the complex rather than 19th Street. How that works in practice probably will be something neighbors watch closely. The project also will have a third road that connects to 15th Street extended. But Ensz said that road will used if emergency responders need to access the property.

Cost: The project is a big one, and has been talked about at City Hall — although in different locations — for decades. Ensz said the best current estimate is one from this summer that has total costs at $123 million, in 2021 dollars. He said the city is working to update that estimate. Based on what is included in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, which lists projects expected to be completed through 2027, it appears the first phase of the project is estimated at about $43 million. The city hasn’t secured financing for all of this project yet. An area the public likely will want to watch is fees for solid waste. The city’s trash rates are expected to pay for the solid waste building, and while the rates have been increasing, they haven’t yet been adjusted upward to start paying for the new building. That will come in future years.

photo by: City of Lawrence/CFS Engineers

A conceptual rendering is shown for the city of Lawrence’s Field Operations Campus planned for eastern Lawrence.


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