Lawrence Township looks to update school buildings

In an effort to address the improvements necessary within various school in the district, the township is proposing a tax referendum to make an appearance on the ballot Nov. 5

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Lawrence Township looks to update school buildings

Hannah Melick and Natalie Rowland

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Plans of renovation

At the beginning of the day, the room is freezing cold. As the day goes on, the layers are shed as the room grows warmer until eventually it becomes too warm to concentrate. This is what US history teacher Rachel Couch experiences day to day in her classroom. Either too hot to care or too cold to focus, students are constantly having to adjust to the ever-changing room temperatures around the school.

“Usually around 2 o’clock, it gets super hot and my last period class is usually falling asleep because of the heat,” Couch said.

Students can experience going from really hot in one room to really cold in another room because of the problems with the heating and cooling system. Whether the rooms are right next to each other or all the way across the building, students are constantly having to adjust to the variety of room temperatures, which can be distracting to students learning. 

“Sometimes when it is really cold, you can’t focus as well,” freshman Livy Norton said.

Lawrence North has not had a renovation since it opened 46 years ago. All of the equipment is original, which has caused some problems with the heating and cooling system and plumbing within the building. Because of this, Lawrence Township is proposing a referendum in order to gain the funds necessary to renovate the building.

“Our job is to provide an environment that’s conducive to learning, and a lot of that is your [physical] environment,” Principal Brett Crousore said.

The referendum will be on the Nov. 5 ballot. Lawrence Township hopes that through these funds it will be able to take care of problems like the plumbing and heating and cooling system.

Besides behind-the-scenes problems, much of the school is outdated which makes it not as functional. Through these renovations, the school hopes to modernize these areas to make them more parallel to the world of today. 

“I think our kids deserve to have a school that mirrors the world they’re going to enter, not a world that we entered in which you had cubicles, you had offices. You didn’t have collaborative spaces—everybody went to work and did their job, you didn’t work in teams. We’ve got to have that space available. And I think our teachers deserve to teach in a space that is conducive to learning for the child of today,” Crousore said. 

Crousore hopes that the renovations will also help to positively contribute to the health of students. One way they are doing this is by adding windows to almost every classroom in order to bring in natural light. 

“I do believe there is something to be said for natural light. Students today, and mood and mental health awareness. So as we are designing this, that’s why you’re talking about a three-story structure separated from the building with walkways that then you get natural light from both sides and the hallways then in the middle of the three story structure with the restrooms in the middle so that way all classrooms are natural light, offices are natural light,” Crousore said.

Some other things the renovation will improve is classroom sizes. By making the classrooms larger, students and teachers will be able to move more easily around the classroom. The hallways and stairways will also be wider in order to allow for better flow of foot traffic.

“[Right now] there are a lot of just like crowded hallways, and stairwells are kind of crowded and dangerous,” Norton said.

To ensure the new building would best suit the wants and needs of everyone involved, the school polled faculty and staff in order to get their input on the type of things they would . Through these suggestions, the design company was able to make spaces that would fit the needs and wants of different teachers. 

“We asked our teachers, we asked our custodial staff, we asked our cafeteria staff, we asked aides, anybody that comes into our building, our PFO. What do you want in a school? And so, what the firm has done, Schmidt Associates, which have been great to work with, they have taken that and began to redesign.” Crousore said.

With both high schools being included in the renovations, the two will be under construction at the same time. To maintain equality between them, the two plans are made with very similar elements, but will focus on different areas of specialty. LN will become more sports-oriented, with the creation of another pool and improved facilities while LC will become more performing arts driven. 

“We have three beautiful buildings: LN, LC, and the McKenzie Center. So right now, we operate in isolation of one another outside of a few classes. We need to utilize those buildings to their fullest potential,” Crousore said.

In addition to redesigning the interior of the building, they are also looking at ways to redesign the outside. Along with a focus on increased curb appeal, they also hope to improve the parking lots by adding landscaped curbed spaces to create a natural flow of traffic. Included in the revamp of the parking lot, there will also be a road created between LN and McKenzie to allow for easier access for student drivers and for those who walk.

“There’s some landscaping structure, a lot with the design of our parking lot, our parking lot right now is just all open. You add some green space; we have an architect that directly works on that piece of it, of beautifying the campus, adding curbage, forced entry, forced exits out of certain parts all the way through the back end,” Crousore said.

While improving the school’s functionality and appearance, the renovations will also center around increasing safety within the building. By eliminating doors and narrowing down the number of entry points, Superintendent Dr. Shawn Smith hopes to make the buildings safer for both students and staff.

“I think safety and security will be huge. You’ll find the building to be safer than what we have now,” Dr. Smith said. 

Referendum details

Lawrence Township has been renovating many schools in the district over the past five years without having to get taxpayer support. This is because these improvements have all been under the allotted amount of $25 million that a school can get without going to the public. However, because the renovations for the high schools are so vast, the school must submit a capital referendum to be approved by the community. The total amount that the district would receive would be $191 million. $161 million will be used to renovate LN and LC. The rest will be used to renovate Brook Park Elementary, Forest Glen Elementary, Oaklandon Elementary, Winding Ridge Elementary, and the four Early Learning Centers.

I think, at the end of the day, what it comes down to is that our students in Lawrence Township deserve to have first class facilities,” Dr. Smith said. 

The money that the district is working for is only going towards the construction of renovating the school, not operation costs. Different than most, the referendum is in support of updates to the school building, not due to a lack of financial stability. 

“We’re unique in that we’re not pursuing an operations referendum. We’re not in financial trouble. This is purely capital. It is a construction referendum,” Director of Communications Dr. Dana Altemeyer said.

The referendum will be on the Nov. 5 ballot for the public to vote on. If passed, the referendum would increase taxes by $0.2499 per every $100 of assessed value over the next 20 years. People who do not have children in the district may not feel that this referendum will benefit them. However, the referendum will increase the value of the community which will ultimately benefit them by increasing the value of their property. 

“By improving the look and feel of our schools, it will increase property value for our families. Good schools, people are looking for that. People move in, people are willing to pay more for property,” Crousore said.

Community support

To raise awareness of the referendum and to increase the public’s understanding, a political action committee was created. The committee is led by co-chairs Pam Dechert and Jeff Yu, who both are active in the community and have kids in the districts. Dechert and Yu plan a number of awareness events that with the help of numerous volunteers they are able to put on in hopes to gain the community’s support. 

“So one of our roles is to recruit people in the community, volunteers, to help out with the many different things that need to be done, like putting up yard signs to help people be aware of this issue, to make phone calls, to go door to door. As in any political campaign, to get people to understand what this is all about and then to have them vote yes,” Yu said. 

Dechert and Yu are excited to be involved in gaining support for the referendum, not only for their own children, but for all the students in the township.

“I think that this is really critical to make sure that we’re doing all of that for our schools and our communities and our kids that live there and the ones that are going to come here in the future,” Dechert said.

Positive outcome?

If the majority of the vote is in support for the referendum, renovations will begin the summer of 2020. The project is separated into three distinct phases to minimize disruption for students and allow for the optimal learning environment throughout the construction process. 

“Any time you go through a construction project, you’re going to have [an impact]. And so, there will be a group who attends LNHS who is here and all they know is construction. That’s why I like the phasing because I feel like, even though it looks like that, yes that Junior, yes that Senior, they’re going to see construction. That sophomore can begin to see the differences,” Crousore said.

The renovations will be completed in 2023. Throughout the renovation, each area will be completed at different times depending on when that phase gets completed. For example, the first phase which will be the academic center will be completed and ready for use for the 2022 school year.

“I think one thing I am looking forward to is for the kids and teachers to see the excitement when they go into the new facilities. Being able to watch the excitement and how you guys are going to be able to use it is enough joy for me,” Dr. Smith said.

As the school goes through the renovations, Altemeyer will be keeping the public and parents of students informed. In addition, the district will continue to publish renderings in order to show the public what they are hoping to achieve. 

“I will continue to communicate with our public, internal and external, about the status of these projects. So communicating those updates and really getting people excited because as we get renderings of what things are going to look like, we want to share that. We’ve never done this,” Dr. Altemeyer said.

The renovations to the building will create a center for better education in the community. These renovations will impact the entire community through educating children that will one day be working within the community.

“The education of the young adults in our community are critical to the future of, not only our community, but our country. We all live here. A strong public school system which educates over 16,000 students a year, is a very important part to a community being strong. If you don’t have a good, strong public school system, your community probably isn’t as strong as it could be. And all of us that live in this area want this area to continue to thrive and be successful,” Yu said.

For more information visit: http://www.ltschools.org/referendum

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