Numerous changes are in store for the City of Lawrence in 2024, with a new administration and five new members on the Lawrence Common Council, along with various development projects finishing up or getting started.
Newly elected Mayor Deb Whitfield begins her first term leading the City of Lawrence in January and will have at least a few key administrative positions to fill.
Chief of Staff Cori Korn is not remaining in that position, Lawrence Fire Department Chief Dino Batalis has retired and Utilities Superintendent Scott Salsbery plans to retire. In an earlier interview, Whitfield said she and her transition team planned to take a careful approach when filling various jobs within the city.
“I’m not a micromanager,” she said. “I want to make sure that we have people around in my administration that have skill sets, talents and perspectives that can help us move forward.”
Whitfield, a Democrat, replaces outgoing Republican Mayor Steve Collier who did not seek reelection after two terms in office. She won against Collier’s deputy mayor, David Hofmann, who ran as the Republican nominee.
Whitfield recently completed her first term on the Lawrence Common Council as an at-large representative. She worked at Community Health Network as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director of Community Outreach and Engagement, but resigned following the election to be a full-time mayor.
Whitfield was among a field of Democratic candidates who swept the 2023 general election in Lawrence, leading to a 100-percent Democrat council and city clerk in 2024. Previously, two Republicans served on the council, and longtime City Clerk Kathy Walton also was Republican.
The five council members who completed their terms on the council at the close of 2023 were Maria Rusomaroff (D-District 4), Tom Shevlot, (R-District 5), Lauren Russel (R-District 6), Shawn Denney (D-at large) and Whitfield.
The new city clerk is Democrat Leatrice Adkisson. The five new council members are Carlos Jennings (D-District 4), Zach Cramer (D-District 5), Kristina Krone (D-District 6), Liz Masur (D-at large) and Betty Robinson (D-at large).
Reelected to the council were Tyrrell Giles (D-District 1), Rick Wells, (D-District 2), Sherron Freeman (D-District 3) and Lisa Chavis (D-at large).
The first council meeting of 2024 is set for Jan. 8.
IndyGo’s second rapid transit line, the Purple Line, is scheduled for completion in fall 2024 following about a year and a half of construction that started in 2023.
The $188 million project will offer faster service from downtown Indianapolis to the Ivy Tech Community College campus on Lawrence’s 59th Street, cutting the wait time between buses serving Lawrence from about an hour to only 15 minutes.
The new service will offer 60-foot-long articulated electric buses to reduce emissions, along with sheltered bus stops that offer ADA accessibility. The Purple Line will run a 15-mile route from downtown Indianapolis to the Ivy Tech campus. It potentially will serve about 58,000 people who live within walking distance of the line, according to IndyGo.
The project also includes infrastructure improvements, such as new sidewalks and better drainage.
A project that will start construction in 2024 is The Benjamin, a Keystone Group mixed-use development on 56th Street close to Civic Plaza that will offer luxury apartments and commercial space, and is set for completion in fall of 2025. A ground-breaking ceremony for the project took place in October 2023.
During that ceremony, Fort Harrison Reuse Authority Board President Jeff Vest said the estimated $70 million Keystone Group development had been in the works for more than six years. It involved a lot of conversations and was delayed in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vest said he was happy the project is moving forward, and it should benefit all of Lawrence.
“It’s the largest private development — private-public development — in the history of Lawrence,” he said. “This will be a little cliche here, but it should be the keystone to drive people to the fort — the whole work, live, play concept.”
According to the Keystone Group, The Benjamin will offer 220 residential units, a pool and luxury amenity spaces, and about 24,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space on the ground floor.
Also starting in 2024 will be a major reconstruction project on Pendleton Pike through Lawrence, headed up by the Indiana Department of Transportation.
The 5-mile stretch begins at I-465 and heads northeast, ending at the intersection with Oaklandon Road. Officials said that traffic accidents are common along that busy section, with fast-moving traffic and no barriers. The plan is to build a raised median to reduce left turns.
Construction is expected to begin in summer and last for about two years.
Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township is looking forward to the completion of major renovations at Lawrence North and Lawrence Central high schools, with a combined cost of $180 million.
The projects, part of the district’s Blue Ribbon Facilities initiative, are due to end in 2024. They were financed in part through a capital referendum approved by voters in 2019. Other capital projects funded through the referendum benefited Brook Park Elementary, Forest Glen Elementary, Oakland Elementary and Winding Ridge Elementary, along with some of the district’s early learning centers.
Both high schools have received a face lift on the exterior, along with renovations to classrooms and other interior spaces. New additions include more classroom spaces and pools.
Lawrence North was built in 1976 and had few upgrades since that time. Lawrence Central, built in 1964, underwent some modifications in the 1990s.
Another building at the fort that will be under construction throughout 2024 is the $20 million MSDLT administration building.
The district’s administrative offices currently are housed at the Lawrence Education and Community Center on Sunnyside Road — formerly the Craig Middle School. The Sunnyside site will continue to house Lawrence Advance Academy, several alternative and special needs programs, and will be the home of the future Craig Academy, according to the district.
The new building will be at 5710 Lawrence Village Parkway, a large, empty field in the middle of the Fort Benjamin Harrison campus. It sits west of the Civic Plaza and is surrounded by former military buildings that have been repurposed since the fort closed in the 1990s.
The Reuse Authority donated the land to the school district for the new facility, which will house the district’s business operations and executive offices.
Also in 2024, three seats will be up for election on the MSDLT School Board. They’re now held by board president Wendy Muston (District 1), vice president Amy Norman (District 3) and secretary Crystal Puckett (at-large).