Lawrence Preservation Alliance: Schools that could face closures have rich histories (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times is offering some space for area organizations and organizers to express their views, provide updates and attempt to reach other folks who might share their mission. This post is contributed content (i.e., not produced by the Times staff). See more in our Community Voices section, or see how to submit your own piece.

The board of directors of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance wishes to express concern about the school district’s proposed plans to close community schools, including Broken Arrow Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary, New York Elementary, Pinckney Elementary, Woodlawn Elementary, and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School.

Each of these schools has a rich history and currently resides in a historic building: 

  • Broken Arrow Elementary was built in 1968 after the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs donated the land to the City of Lawrence for use as a school whose name would honor the area’s Indigenous heritage.
  • Hillcrest Elementary was built in 1953, providing education to many who live west of the University of Kansas campus, including the children of international KU faculty and students, becoming a hub for Lawrence’s international community.
  • New York Elementary was founded in 1869, and the current structure was built in 1937 as part of the New Deal public works program. It is the proud alma mater of a young Langston Hughes, who attended the school for fourth through sixth grades before going on to become one of the nation’s most celebrated poets.
  • Pinckney Elementary was founded in 1872 and rebuilt in the same location in 1931. In 2013, Pinckney students engaged in an excavation project that unearthed the remains of the old school building while giving them a hands-on archaeological learning experience.
  • Woodlawn Elementary was founded in the late 19th century and rebuilt after a fire in 1924. It was integrated with the Lincoln School in 1955 as a result of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that banned segregation in public schools.
  • Liberty Memorial Central Middle School’s building was constructed in 1923 to memorialize the lives of Lawrence High School students and graduates who gave their lives in service to their country during World War I. Three hundred young Lawrencians fought in the war, almost half of whom had not yet graduated from high school.

The brief historical synopses presented here only just scratch the surface of the wealth of stories of past Lawrence citizens that are contained in each of these school buildings. And though the buildings themselves are precious — especially to the architectural preservationists among us — the Lawrence Preservation Alliance also recognizes the important role that community schools play as local institutions that keep the culture of our neighborhoods thriving. 

We know that the school board is facing a challenging budget shortfall at an unprecedented historical moment, and we sympathize with the struggle to find a solution that keeps teachers, administrators, parents, and students engaged, learning, and happy. However, we hope that the board can find a solution that does not include the closing of any one of these valuable historical institutions. They are integral to the beauty of our historic landscape, the complexity of our city heritage, and the vibrancy of our neighborhoods.

Lastly, with respect to whatever decision the board may reach regarding the use or reuse of these buildings, we strongly encourage the school district to assure the community that these important neighborhood assets will be cloaked with the significant protections that will result from nominating them for inclusion in the Register of Historic Kansas Places.

Learn more about the Lawrence Preservation Alliance on its website.

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