Campus construction continues under coronavirus pandemic


Owen Musser

Students can sit and work while looking out at the new courtyard.

Jackson Yanek

By Tony Racy, Co-Online Editor in Chief

Students will arrive at an unfamiliar campus with the start of hybrid learning this month.

Construction progressed further while students stayed home from the building beginning in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Recent renovations focused on updating the northern parts of the building, such as the rotunda, cafeteria, hallways, courtyards and classrooms.

“Moving forward, we’ve moved from south to north in the building,” USD 497 executive director of operations and facilities Tony Barron said. “The biggest chunk we’ve taken off in the project is the first phase in the summer, we did approximately $14-20 million of work in the first two phases.”

The rotunda features higher ceilings and more windows. Natural light floods the space, making it bright. Large learning stairs — yet to be unveiled — will give students more space to study and relax.

The cafeteria includes a new kitchen. Tables and chairs have been entirely replaced as well. A few booths have even been added.

Senior John Green received a sneak peak of the campus when he visited to take the ACT test.

 “Walking in through the main entrance, it felt a lot bigger than before,” Green said. “It seemed like there was more space to walk in the hallways. And the cafeteria was probably the biggest improvement. Everything was more spaced out so it was easier for students to move around.”

Also opened are expansive hallways with large windows. One connects the innovation corridor — which includes art classrooms — to the front of the school. Another hall connects E2 and the gym. Large trophy cases and displays will exhibit Lawrence High’s highest achievements in arts, sports and other successful areas.

Several new rooms and equipment were added to the building along with room renovations. Two giant lecture rooms that teachers can use for classes feature projectors equipped with Apple airplay, a whiteboard table and even a 3-D printer. Teachers will also receive a new lounge space.

Zach Saltz, who teaches film production classes and advises Room 125 Productions, benefited from these additions. 

“We now have a new video studio that is soundproof and ready for live broadcasting,” Saltz said. “Room 125 (the old film room) was definitely quaint and had some loveable quirky features, but my new environment feels way more professional and visible within the building.”

The work is part of a $46 million overhaul of Lawrence High. Construction began in 2019 and will wrap up next year.

“I’m overall really impressed with the construction on campus,” Saltz said. “I’m amazed how the architects have been able to create a space so open from a space that was so cramped and insular. The new staircase looks spectacular and the archway connecting the old annex to the main building is beautiful to walk by outside.”

The time away from students has given the district more flexibility. 

“We had the opportunity to come to some of our construction areas in the middle of April vs the end of May, so what it did was reduce our overtime cost through the summer, but it didn’t really expedite any timelines,” Barron said. “What it did was give the construction crews longer periods of time to complete the task before August.”

Two one-way hallways connecting E2 and the music wing will be built on each floor to better improve traffic flow as the district looks to take extra precautions during hybrid-learning. Students who travel down the hallway will have to travel to the other floor to get back to the rest of the building. However, additional elevators won’t be constructed on the other end of the hallways.

Barron said the construction process is prepared to handle students learning in the building while preserving coronavirus precautions.

“The fortunate thing is that we really have two different areas required by building code to have a totally isolated area for construction work,” Barron said. “They’ll continue to work business as usual and they haven’t shut down through the pandemic at all.”

For weeks, it’s only been teachers who have been able to see the remodeled spaces.

“The construction is great, but the building feels so empty without students,” Saltz said. “I miss greeting students in the hallway, and it’s a drag that they cannot see up close how awesome our building has become. So while I’m pleased with construction, it feels meaningless without students here to enjoy it.”