New high school means big change to grade-level setup

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 | 8:10 p.m. CDT; updated 10:56 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 15, 2010
From left, Mark Lea and Bob Annett take a break from work while Annett puts up a GPS at the new high school lot on East St. Charles Rd. on Tuesday. The Columbia Public School District is opening up a new high school at this location, where the construction is projected to be completed in 24 to 35 months.

COLUMBIA — When Columbia's next public high school opens in fall 2013, ninth-graders will be among the student body.

The same will be true for Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools, which now have 10th- through 12th-graders. Seniors will probably not be moved to the new high school for the first year of its operation.


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"Normally when you open a high school, it's not a good idea to include seniors because they have a loyalty, obviously, to the schools where they've been," said Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education for Columbia Public Schools.

Groundbreaking for the school is at 4 p.m. Thursday at the site off St. Charles Road between Lake of the Woods Road and Highway Z in northeast Columbia.

Douglass High School, an alternative high school, currently has ninth graders, but their inclusion at the city's main high schools is not the only change to the district's grade structure. Middle and junior high schools will be turned into intermediate schools for sixth through eighth grades. Elementary schools will stay the same.

The new attendance areas are not drawn up, Brown said, and there is no firm time line in place to finish them. The Secondary Enrollment Planning Committee plans to meet in January 2011 to start developing them. Some elementary school boundaries were reconfigured to accommodate the closure of Field Elementary School and the opening of Lewis Elementary School.

Mapping out the attendance areas for the intermediate schools will be especially challenging because some of the middle schools and junior highs are only half a mile apart, Superintendent Chris Belcher said.

The restructuring will lower the number of students attending each secondary school. The middle schools and junior highs have an average of 870 students currently, and the intermediate schools will bring that average down to about 600 students each, Belcher said.

Last year, Hickman had 2,001 students in three grades and Rock Bridge had 1,811 in three grades. When the new high school is added, each of those three high schools will serve an average of 1,800 students in four grades, Belcher said.

“Once the school gets built, this is an entire reorganization of our secondary system," Belcher said. "Kids will only have to change schools twice.”

Brown and School Board President Jan Mees said education research has shown fewer transitions are better for student learning.

Placing ninth graders in high school also helps them to view that year as one that will count toward their college or post-secondary plans, Mees said.

A 2007 Columbia Missourian article on school transitions cited MU emeritus professor John Alspaugh.

"Anytime you have a transition, (in) the year of the transition there will always be a sharp drop in achievement," said Alspaugh, who studied the effects of such transitions on children.

After the groundbreaking, the Columbia School Board will hold its regular meeting at the district administration building, 1818 W. Worley St. On the agenda is JE Dunn Construction's update on the bid process used assign contractors to various jobs in the construction project. The board plans to meet again in the beginning of August to hear JE Dunn's final bid recommendations.

Here are details about the new high school from Mees,  Belcher, Brown and Deputy Superintendent Nick Boren.


North of St. Charles Road between North Lake of the Woods Road and Highway Z. To get there, go east on Interstate 70 to exit 131-Lake of the Woods; turn left at the traffic light. Proceed to the second stop light (Sonic on the right); turn right and proceed to the next stop sign (fire station on the right); continue straight on St. Charles Road at stop sign; follow St. Charles Road about 2 miles to the site on the left (past Lake of the Woods Golf Course).


  • $75 million for the project, including the purchase price. Originally budgeted for $85 million but scaled back to build an elementary school, which is tentatively set to open in fall 2014. No site has been selected.
  • $947,250 for 84.2 acres of land, including recent purchase of 4.2 acres for a storm water runoff detention pond.
  • $2.9 million to build a west arterial road (1,375 feet long), an east/west connector road and an intersection with a stoplight on St. Charles Road. (At the meeting, the board will discuss whether to include this in the $75 million overall budget.)
  • $65 million left for other projects out of a $120 million bond voters approved in April and a $60 million bond approved in 2007.


  • The building will be about 300,000 square feet.
  • Student parking will be behind the school.
  • Administration, guidance and nurses offices will be in the front of the building. One reason behind this is to increase security because visitors would be less likely to walk among the classrooms when the offices are in the front.


  • All Columbia sixth-graders will be involved in choosing the school colors and mascot, and their top choices will go to a naming committee.
  • The committee is being assembled and will include teachers, administrators and citizens. Its makeup will be finalized by the School Board in September. The committee's recommendations will go to the board for approval, probably in November.
  • Anyone will be able to submit ideas to the committee. The Columbia Public School website, press releases and newsletters will tell people how to contribute ideas.


Neighbors are concerned about: 

  • Jennifer Stauffacher — losing the quiet, country setting.
  • Fatima Harris — an increase in traffic.
  • Justin Owens — construction vehicles pulling mud and gravel out into the road and high school students loitering in the neighborhood after school hours.
  • Eric Stauffacher — young drivers' tendency to speed.

Neighbors look forward to:

  • Justin Owens — potential rise in property value throughout the area.
  • Fatima Harris — if she wasn't moving before they reach high school, close proximity to her children's school.
  • Stacy Spano — less crowding in all Columbia public schools.
  • Beth Edmiston — better quality education at a newer school with slightly fewer students than are now at the two main high schools.


  • The new high school was originally going to be placed southeast of Columbia. But during the summer and fall of 2007, an upswell in community concern about the location and the process used to decide it resulted in creation of a citizens' committee that recommended the new site.


  • Most teachers will be transferred from other Columbia Public Schools.
  • Likelier job opportunities include: principals, counselors, custodians, secretaries and food staff. Some of these positions might be filled by the staff of the middle schools and junior highs because those will shrink in student size.


  • DLR Group of Kansas City has designed the high school.
  • The district is using a construction management model to build the high school, meaning that different contractors bid to be assigned specific parts of the project.
  • JE Dunn Construction of Kansas City has been selected as the construction manager that will evaluate the bids and advise the School Board which ones to accept.

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