Columbia Board of Education votes on next step for new middle school

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Board of Education voted to approve ballot language for a $30 million bond issue Monday night at its meeting. Bonds sold by Columbia Public Schools would fund the construction of a new middle school.

Columbia Public Schools previously used a bond issue approved in 2016 to fund construction plans and buying land for the new middle school. The bond issue is separate from taxes and would not raise them.

Southwest Middle School's location will be on Sinclair Road near Mill Creek Elementary School. CPS bought the land in September from Sinclair Farm, which is owned by the University of Missouri. 

“We knew that we would have to come back to voters in order to be able to ask for bond funds to actually build the middle school," communications director Michelle Baumstark said.

CPS hopes the new middle school will ease overcrowding at Gentry Middle School. Baumstark said Gentry Middle School was built for 600 to 650 students, but it has more than 900 students in attendance this school year. It is the only middle school in south Columbia, and the school has added 13 trailers to address the issue.

Baumstark said class sizes are within the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education's requirements through the use of the trailers, but the school experiences overcrowding most in lunch times and common space use. She said lunch starts at 10 a.m. and goes until 1 p.m. 

CPS made an attendance area adjustment for Gentry Middle School for this year, but overcrowding will not go away.

“It becomes a very emotional process for our families, but it was important for us to do some things to mitigate the growth that we’re seeing in that side of town until we can get a new school built," Baumstark said.

CPS has accelerated the timeline for building the new middle school. The schools originally said it would finish construction by 2022, but it now expects to finish around 2020.

The bond issue would also fund repairs and renovations to existing school buildings and technology upgrades.

“We have 30 plus schools in our school district," Baumstark said. "It’s important that we keep them in good condition. The buildings range anywhere from over a hundred to just a couple years old."

Baumstark said renovating Lee Elementary is one of the upcoming plans since it is more than 100 years old.

The board said the plans are part of a vision created in 2010. Board member Jonathan Sessions said he is glad the board has stayed true to them and is seeing the "fruits."

“This is part of that same conversation that this board’s been having for eight years now. I’m really glad that we’ve been able to fulfill this plan, that it hasn’t changed dramatically, and we can see the success of it," Sessions said.

The ballot language the school board approved for the bond issue Monday night will go to voters in April 2018.