This school year, Lawrence North and Lawrence Central high schools will look different to the students entering their doors. The campuses are a work in progress, as both buildings are one year into three-year renovations that will see nearly every room redone.
“It has been over 25 years since Lawrence Central was renovated, so it’s overdue,” said Dana Altemeyer, director of communications for the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township. “I’m looking forward to seeing students have access to learning spaces that are more reflective of the 21st century.”
The renovations are part of a $191 million referendum approved by 64 percent of Lawrence voters in 201). Taxes were raised by just under 25 cents per $100 of assessed value on resident’s property taxes.
“We’ve got a strong community supporting our efforts. But it also helps property values, as dilapidated schools don’t attract families,” Altemeyer said. “Our students deserve state-of-the-art facilities. Our staff deserves to work in state-of-the-art facilities as well. And we are making that happen.”
The capital referendum is a major part of a renovation of all buildings in the district that date back to a blue-ribbon panel in 2014, established by the then-new superintendent, Shawn Smith. The blue-ribbon panel began to draft a plan for renovations for the 21 buildings in the district, which had already made headway in several renovation efforts before the referendum.
“Prior to (the referendum) we had already renovated eight buildings, redid the softball stadiums and auditoriums at LC and LN, rebuilt the concessions and the track at Belzer and then redid the stadiums and end zones at LC and LN,” Altemeyer said.
Now, it is the high school’s turn, with the middle schools set to follow in 2023. The entire project is expected to be complete by 2025.
Seeing the facelift on the high schools is a welcome sign to those who, like MSD of Lawrence Chief Operating Officer Rodger Smith, have been a part of the entire process.
“It’s awesome with the direction we are going and the support we are able to provide for our students and staff as a result of the support of this community allowing us to do that. As these buildings are renovated, some being torn down, others going up, it’s neat to watch,” Smith said.
It had been a long time since improvements had been made to the high schools.
Lawrence Central was built in 1963, but the most recent significant renovation was in 1993, with some touch-up work in 2003 and 2008. Lawrence North was built in 1976 with modifications occurring four times between 1995 and 2013. But neither school has undergone the significant changes under way this year. Some of the changes will be immediately evident to students inside the buildings.
“They’re going to see a lot of hallways with no ceiling in them,” Smith said. “The performing arts areas at both LC and LN have been totally renovated, so we have moved them into their new spaces. Band, orchestra, dance, piano, ensemble rooms, practice rooms, that whole area is new.”
Other changes at Lawrence Central include a new kitchen facility, which is now where the old hall of fame was. Part of the commons area has been temporarily filled in to be used as a cafeteria. At Lawrence North, the special education spaces have been redone and are already in their new space.
Both schools have a three-floor story addition being built on the front of the schools that will add classroom and office space.
“They are both very much similar, of course. They will be a little bit different in how they attach to the current building, but most of the layout is the same,” Smith said.
There is still two years of work ahead for the high schools, but by the time the incoming class of 2025 graduates, the schools will be complete.
Other campuses benefit, too
Before the 2019 capital referendum, which helped fund improvements at the two Lawrence high schools, the district had been able to upgrade most of its other campuses. But the high schools weren’t the only parts of the MSD of Lawrence Township to benefit through the referendum.
“We were able to fund about $174 million (in projects before the 2019 referendum) without increased taxation of residents, but the high schools were just simply too big, and by tacking a little bit more onto that capital referendum, we were able to address the five remaining elementary (schools): Brook Park, Forest Glen, Oaklandon, Winding Ridge and then some upgrades at our early learning centers for our accreditation, but those were newer buildings that didn’t need as much in renovations,” said Dana Altemeyer, director of communication for MSD of Lawrence Township.