In the past few years, renovation and construction projects have been ongoing throughout the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township. According to MSDLT Communications Director Dana Altemeyer, launching the projects around the same time made sense because funds were available.
“The district had invested $174 million in the Blue Ribbon Facilities Plan, which is an initiative to renovate and upgrade all facilities in the district without taxpayer support, and that includes construction of a brand new transportation center,” Altemeyer said.
The Blue Ribbon Facilities Plan outlined upgrades to seven elementary schools; the McKenzie Center for Innovation & Technology; Lawrence Central and Lawrence North high schools’ stadiums and endzone buildings; the Belzer Middle School concessions and track facilities; Lawrence Central and Lawrence North high school’ auditoriums and softball stadium; Belzer Middle School and Fall Creek Valley Middle School; and construction of a new transportation center.
So far, all but the two middle schools and the new transportation center have been completed. The transportation center is expected open mid-month, and construction on the middle schools is expected to begin next year.
“Our current transportation facility was built to accommodate no more than 100 buses, and the district currently operates 225,” Altemeyer said. “So obviously for safety and efficiency reasons, this is well warranted.”
Altemeyer said district officials knew both high schools needed extensive renovations, and a referendum was passed in 2019. Initially, MSDLT asked for $191 million but was able to secure $220 million for the same .2499 per $100 of assessed value because of the district’s high bond rating and low interest rates. So, officials decided to renovate the four remaining elementary schools not upgraded through the Blue Ribbon Facilities Plan, including Brook Park, Forest Glen, Oaklandon, Winding Ridge and the district’s four early learning centers.
“We need to make sure our students are in state-of-the-art, safe learning facilities,” Altemeyer said. “When we were doing it without the referendum, we were doing one or two projects at a time, but with that influence of the referendum, we were able to complete much more.
“By doing it this way, by the time the high schools are completed, every facility in the district will have been fully renovated.”
Altemeyer said the district will start to reexamine buildings that were renovated in 2015 as part of the first renovations for the Blue Ribbon Facilities Plan, such as Crestview Elementary.
“Our facilities were overdue for renovations and upgrades, and by keeping them on a schedule, it’s far more efficient financially, and you don’t get to a level of disrepair that warrant full renovation of a facility,” Altemeyer said.
A look at some of the recent renovations
The most recently completed renovation projects were at Forest Glen Elementary and Oaklandon Elementary. The combined cost was $15.6 million.
Work at Forest Glen included an updated entrance, new paint, new flooring, updated classrooms and parking, front office renovation, the addition of a Project Lead the Way room, renovation of the food services area, reconfiguration of administrative spaces and the renovation and relocation of classrooms to include a new makerspace.
Forest Glen is a Spanish-immersion school. Forest Glen Principal Jerome Omar Lahlou said the renovations help Forest Glen accomplish its mission.
“Forest Glen strives to foster a culture of collaboration to create equitable instructional systems that cultivate compassionate, autonomous and problem-solving bilingual ambassadors,” Lahlou said.
Previous renovations to Oaklandon Elementary were completed in 1999. Renovations at Oaklandon Elementary included an updated entrance, new paint, new flooring, updated parking, exterior paint, front office renovation, addition of a mother’s room, renovation of food services area, relocation of the custodial offices, addition of administrative spaces and the renovation and relocation of classrooms to include a makerspace.
Principal Jenny Sheets said families will be amazed when they see the transformations.
“Having a fully renovated building has energized our staff and students and brought a sense of pride to our school community,” Sheets said. “We appreciate our community for helping make our vision a reality.”