Challenges in Lawrence gym renovation

School district’s $10 million renewal project continues


Amid a complete renovation of Lawrence Middle School, district Superintendent Ann Pedersen said the district wants to “preserve the integrity” of the old gymnasium on the Broadway Campus as it undergoes repairs.

The gym is the sixth phase of a thorough renovation of the campus, at 199 Broadway in Lawrence, which also houses the district’s elementary school. In an eight-part construction plan, the first to undergo work was the auditorium at the middle school, with the intent of maintaining the facility’s old look and vintage feel.

The district then turned its focus to the “new” gym, the second gym in the middle school that is shared with the elementary school, where workers added space for children with special needs.

“We redid the locker rooms, so we renovated all that,” Pedersen said. “Then we turned our attention to what was called the ‘old’ gym. We now refer to them as the north and south gym.”

Construction for the renovation of the old gym began in 2019, and is still underway. The district is hoping for a late-June opening, but if not, it will be unveiled in September.

“When people speak on the fact that it’s closed,” Pedersen said, “what they forget to add to that is, what is open is a better facility than we ever had there before.”

The Lawrence Teachers Association took to Facebook to complain that the work has been going on for over three and a half years, comparing it to the time it took to build UBS Arena, in Elmont, and MetLife Stadium, in New Jersey. The LTA also pointed out that students in the middle school and elementary school have to share a locker room and gym space.

“There are times when there’s classes of middle school and classes of elementary school in one gymnasium,” LTA President Rachel Kreiss said. “It’s deafeningly loud, and very hard to teach any sort of lesson when you have half a gymnasium to do it with.”

One reason for the slow pace of the renovations is the district’s goal of preserving the original gym floor, which is called “in-grain cut” and was built in the 1940s. Pedersen, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Jeremy Feder and Scott Unger, the district’s director of facilities, wanted to preserve the old look. The floor, which “floats,” not needing to be nailed or glued to the subfloor, was also in need of straightening, because it has shifted over the years.

“It was too small, so we expanded the floor of the gym,” Pedersen said. “While maintaining the integrity, the footprint of the gym is larger now.”

The school had to find a specialist to do the floor work. “I found a man who lives in Boston, Massachusetts, who works with this type of wood,” Unger said. “It took two and a half months to trim the old wood all by hand, and we’re still waiting for the new wood to come in.”

New scoreboards and basketball backboards took 18 months to finish. All of the custom work added to the renovation timeline. Nonetheless, it did not affect district residents’ taxes, and there was limited budget impact.

The district has allocated between $7.5 million and $10 million for construction and renovation projects in the past six years as part of its capital budget, according to Feder.

The new “old” gym will also feature new bleachers and locker rooms, and the basketball court is being expanded to regulation size for a middle school.

“Nothing works just in a little sliver,” Feder said. “It’s a big picture. There’s air conditioning in the gym now — it wasn’t a simple task.”


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