In a groundbreaking move on Oct. 20, the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township (MSDLT), together with Schmidt Associates and The Skillman Corporation, undertook an extraordinary project to install rooftop HVAC units for the new Lawrence Central High School natatorium addition. What made this endeavor so unique was the decision to use Midwest Helicopter Airways instead of a conventional crane company. Spearheaded by the project’s mechanical contractor, this initiative showcases a commitment to innovation and efficiency in educational infrastructure development.

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The Helicopter vs. Crane
The decision to employ a helicopter for the rooftop unit installation came down to the cost-effectiveness of using a helicopter over a crane, which was a key factor. By opting for aerial assistance, the school district aimed to achieve substantial savings of taxpayer dollars while seeing to the project’s success. This choice reflects a willingness to explore unconventional methods in the pursuit of efficient and economical solutions.

Creating Flexibility
One of the primary reasons behind the rooftop unit installation was the desire to optimize space and enhance building flexibility. Unlike ground-based units, rooftop installations free up valuable real estate within the school premises. This allows for more efficient space usage and provides the school district with increased flexibility for future building projects. The rooftop positioning of the units aligns with standard practices observed in commercial buildings, particularly high-rises, where space utilization is at a premium.

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Ductwork Efficiency
The placement of rooftop units also offers another major advantage with ductwork. When HVAC units are positioned on the roof, ductwork can be routed underneath, streamlining the installation process. This eliminates the expense and complexities of routing the ductwork through exterior walls. This also provides a much cleaner looking installation. The decision to position units on the roof reflects a thoughtful approach to construction, emphasizing efficiency and long-term maintenance ease.

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Roof Access Benefits
Beyond the initial installation, having rooftop units provides ongoing benefits related to maintenance. Routine inspections and repairs become seamless with direct roof access, which is an easy way for the district to address any issues that may arise. This approach also aligns with the best practices observed in commercial buildings, where rooftop installations are favored for their accessibility and ease of maintenance.

An Aerial Spectacle
The entire rooftop unit installation process, from rigging set-up to the final descent of the units, unfolded within a remarkably brief timeframe of approximately one hour. The use of a helicopter added an element of excitement and spectacle to the event. School staff and curious onlookers gathered at the Lawrence Central High School football stadium press box to witness the operation unfold in real-time. The view from the top offered a key vantage point for observers to appreciate the precision and efficiency of the aerial installation.


This project illustrates MSDLT’s commitment to innovation and efficiency in educational infrastructure development. By opting for a helicopter over a traditional crane and strategically placing the units on the roof, the school district has not only realized immediate cost savings but has also positioned itself for long-term benefits in space optimization and maintenance efficiency. This initiative serves as an inspiring example for K-12 educational institutions seeking inventive solutions for their infrastructure needs.

Interested in innovative solutions for your next school project? Let’s talk and figure out how we can make your vision a reality.

*Tom Stapleton is the construction administrator overseeing the MSDLT project.