Officials Plan to Sell Jefferson City High School

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JEFFERSON CITY - Jefferson City high school officials told KOMU Wednesday about their plan to sell Jefferson City High School and help develop it as a higher education corridor in the Lafayette Street/Stadium Boulevard area. Officials want to build a bigger high school within Jefferson City's city limits. 

"The goal was to find a property that would be anywhere from 80 to 150 acres," David Luther, school community relations director at Jefferson City Public Schools, said. "There are actually 12 different properties we have come across that fit that parameter, that's large enough and close enough. But we have not yet made a decision on which property to purchase at this point."

The new school would house seven academies and serve grades 9-12. Luther said the new facility will resemble a college campus with different academies for fine arts, athletics, etc. 

"Academically, we are preparing to move into a new way of teaching," Luther said. "We're going to be going into career themes, academies, and we want to have a facility that's constructed with that in mind. We're going to have classes where we blend different classes together. Sometimes, you might have something like biology and a literature class together, so you might have team teachers, so the classrooms might be larger. It's not a new concept, but it's new to this area. We are excited about the idea of having, in essence, seven schools within a school. We want to have an opportunity for students to build relationships with their fellow students, their principals, their counselor and their teachers. In the academy setting, you're going to have about 300-500 students per academy. So, it takes a larger high school and breaks it up."

Luther said the new school will be able to accommodate more students since enrollment has been on the rise.  

"Our kindergarten, first and second grade classes are among the biggest classes that we've ever had come through our district," Luther said. "We can handle it at the elementary and middle school level, but when they get to the Simonsen 9th grade center, that building was built for about 525 students. It currently has more than 600, and we're looking at 700+ students in some of these classes."

The move would also consolidate the campus. Currently, the high school's athletic fields are spread out all over town. That plan would also include selling the Adkins Stadium and Nichols Career Center. 

"We would like to have all those facilities on one piece of property," Luther said.

He said building a new high school would be easier than renovating the current one.

"If we were going to do the type of construction that we need to do, the renovations, we probably would not be able to open a facility like that, or have it completely ready until 2019 or 2020," Luther said. "If we build a new high school, we could open the doors to the new school in August of 2016. We've already met with our architects, we've had some conversations with our engineers, and we know that we could do that."

High school officials had preliminary talks with Linn State Technical College and Lincoln University, both of whom have expressed interest in buying the property. 

"It might be weird just to change locations since Jefferson City High School has been here forever," Jefferson City High School student Chezney Shorthose said. "I think what goes into the school is the teachers and the students and it doesn't really matter what type of building we're in. It'll still be a good high school."

The potential sale would not affect Thorpe Gordon Elementary School, which is right next to the high school.

"Obviously, we want to make sure that we have the campus well-maintained and taken care of, and that there's safety and security, those things will be in place," Luther said.

If voters approve the ballot initiative officials hope to have on next April's ballot, the new school could open to students in August 2016.