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COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools Board of Education is accelerating the process to build the first new middle school in Columbia in over 20 years. A new school was scheduled to be opened in 2022, but has been moved up to 2020.

The overcrowding in Columbia schools has been well documented in places like Gentry Middle School and the Board of Education has opened up conversation with the public about where to locate the next middle school they plan to build.

“We had our work session last week to begin the review process of available properties, in south Columbia in particular,” said Michelle Baumstark, community relations director of Columbia Public Schools.

The process of narrowing down the 25 chosen possible locations is based on a number of factors to best fit the needs of the potential school. Baumstark says the district is looking at several factors, including infrastructure and location in south Columbia.

“These are all vacant pieces of property that meet our initial acreage requirement, whether or not they are for sale is the next part of the discussion,” said Baumstark.

The Board of Education and the engineers involved in the project will individually approach landowners at the sites that have been highlighted about a possible sale. The cost of the project is unknown until negotiations are finalized but Baumstark said, with the timeline moved up, the sooner the better.

“A site that has more infrastructure readily available than a site that doesn’t come with different cost implications. You have upfront costs because the property has infrastructure versus a less expensive piece of property because it doesn’t have that infrastructure,” said Baumstark.

Negotiations take time Baumstark said, but said the goal is to have a site picked out and finalized within this year so they can move forward into the design and then building phase of the school.