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An abundance of natural light flows through the art classrooms at Lawrence Central High School. Three floors above, students complete independent work in an open-space lounge.
And on another end of the building, crews work on the latest addition to the Lawrence Township high school: an indoor pool.
The renovations here are among the largest of the district’s massive facilities upgrade plan that has touched each of the district’s 17 school buildings. So far, it has pumped more than $500 million into new classrooms, new stadiums, bigger playgrounds, safety renovations, and more.
The district’s Blue Ribbon Facilities plan, which began in 2014, sought to upgrade buildings that are up to 55 years old by creating more classroom space to accommodate the district’s growing student population. The district has so far spent over $200 million on these upgrades. But in 2019, voters approved a $220 million ballot measure that turbocharged the district’s facility plans by funding improvements at Lawrence Central, five other schools, and four early learning centers. The changes could be vital to ensuring students are engaged in school, a challenge in the post-pandemic era.
“You see a different level of ownership for us,” said Lawrence Central High School Principal Franklyn Bush.“I think we also see the want to absolutely be at school just because of all the natural light, the bright light, the opportunities to support and promote your clubs, activities, your students’ success.”
Renovations bring more classrooms, extracurricular space
The old Lawrence Central was dark, crowded, and carpeted — on both the floor and the walls.
After voters passed the $220 million referendum in 2019, similar overhauls and updates began at both Lawrence Central and Lawrence North. The 2019 referendum pays for upgrades at both high schools, as well as Brook Park, Forest Glen, Oaklandon, and Winding Ridge elementary schools. Four early learning centers located within elementary schools also received this funding.
The two high schools are the district’s largest projects.
At Lawrence Central, the referendum money funded a three-story addition, and the school’s classrooms have been reorganized to minimize the chaos between classes. Students attend their four core classes in the three-story building and come through a new hallway to get to their elective classes in a separate wing of the building.
On the ground floor, there’s a new cafeteria, media center, and a bright new senior cafe that seniors use at lunch and other students and staff can use for events.
Students are already taking advantage of the new space. Last month, the Latino student union performed a dance for National Hispanic Heritage Month. About 80 tickets were sold for the dance in the cafe, a more intimate space than the school’s gym, Bush said.
“This has given them so many more opportunities to own space in the building and just enjoy themselves,” he said.
At Lawrence North, students will soon get to enjoy the new indoor pool when it opens later this year.
Both high schools also received funding outside of the referendum for new auditoriums and upgrades to the stadium and end zone buildings that house locker and training rooms.
Upgrades focus on transportation, school safety, athletics
Lawrence Township schools still has a host of other projects to complete over the next several years; the district expects the first phase of the Blue Ribbon to be completed in 2027. But other projects that are part of the district’s recent spate of construction are already finished.
The district used Blue Ribbon plan funds to build a new transportation facility, completed in 2021, that accommodates its enrollment growth. Its previous lot for school buses was designed for 96 vehicles, but the district now has 220, said Rodger Smith, the district’s chief operations officer.
Eleven other schools have also received upgrades under the Blue Ribbon plan. Main offices for some of the seven elementary schools in this group were moved from the center of the building to the front to improve school safety, Smith said. Many also received new classrooms.
Last month, officials celebrated the groundbreaking of a new administration building that officials will move into in 2025. The current administration building will still house the Lawrence Advance Academy, and officials are also examining the possibility of opening a new school serving grades 5-8. All of these developments are part of the Blue Ribbon plan.
Across the street from Lawrence Central, Belzer Middle School is getting a full renovation that includes a new auditorium.
And the work at Lawrence Central is not quite done. The school is still in the process of getting two soccer fields and a new varsity baseball diamond, plus the indoor pool.
Bush hopes that the improvements to Lawrence Central will allow the school to serve more student needs and interests.
“When you think about the opportunities for kids when it comes to training, regarding performing arts, athletics, even academic trainings, we necessarily don’t have to send our kids off campus anymore,” he said.
Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Lawrence Township schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at email@example.com.