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Northeast Columbia residents react to proposed elementary school site

Saturday, September 17, 2011 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:05 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 19, 2011
Columbia Public Schools has negotiated to buy 32 acres for $1.5 million for a new elementary school site. It is in northeastern Columbia, just north of the site of Battle High School on St. Charles Road.

COLUMBIA — Ian Turley lives just south of land the Columbia Public School District is buying for a new elementary school. He hopes an additional school in his northeast Columbia neighborhood will lead to other improvements that will benefit everyone, even those without kids.

"I feel like it would require them to put more attention into the neighborhood and make things nice," Turley said, citing safety issues for pedestrians as one example. "There’s not sidewalks or anything like that. The outer road out there’s 45 (mph), and there’s no sidewalks, so you can’t really walk to anything."

The district announced Friday that it will buy 32 acres for $1.5 million from the St. Charles Road Development, the same group that sold the land for Battle High School. The Columbia School Board chose the location just north of where Battle is being built on St. Charles Road in part because it was construction-ready.

The development group has agreed to pay to complete Battle Drive on the northern edge of the property and extend utility services to the new site as part of the deal, according to a release from the district.

The development group will also donate $500,000 toward the construction of a gymnasium at Hickman High School, making the purchase price of the land $1 million. The project will be funded by a school bond issue approved by voters in 2010.

Thoughts on Two Mile Prairie

The new site will likely draw students from Alpha Hart Lewis, Two Mile Prairie and possibly Cedar Ridge elementary schools. This will be determined in the near future by a committee charged with redrawing elementary school boundaries, said Pam Conway, chairwoman of the Elementary Site Selection Committee.

Katie Naab, a mother of six, has concerns about what the new school could mean for others in the district. Five of her six children are enrolled in public schools — three of them at Two Mile Prairie.

"We already have enough of, no offense, the failing schools here in Columbia," Naab said, referring to elementary schools. "They need to get their act together before they think about opening up another one."

"Two Mile’s a good school, though," she said. "That’s where my kids go. That’s where I went." Naab favors the addition of Battle High.

Patricia Raynor, principal at Two Mile Prairie, said parents would be reluctant to send their children to a new school.

"It might be hard on some of the parents because they’re very tried and true and passionate about this school," Raynor said. "I think as a parent I’d think that’s probably going to be an issue."

Emotional attachments to Two Mile aside, the district thinks the school will benefit from fewer students. In making the case to voters last year, district leaders maintained that a new elementary school is necessary to ease crowding in existing schools.

Raynor said she thinks her school is over capacity but didn't immediately know the official number. "We’re pretty overcrowded," she said.

Two Mile Prairie had an official enrollment of 326 students in 2010-11, but that number is up by about 30 students, Raynor said.

"We’re feeling like we’re adding more and more and more to everything, so taking some of the population off the plate would be a helpful thing," Raynor said. "I think it would give the school more room because we don’t have much room left."

Site selection process

The district employed RSP and Associates to do a survey that projected where growth will be during the next five years when they redrew high school attendance boundaries in April. The firm found that areas of the city projected to grow are the north, northeast, east and southwest, city Planning and Development Director Tim Teddy told the Missourian in April.

The Elementary Site Selection Committee used this data to set its priorities, the most important being location, said Conway, the chairwoman, a couple of weeks ago.

"We certainly wanted to make sure the next school will be in a position where it will serve the community best," Conway said.

In March, Conway's committee was looking at four sites when Tom Bass came forward with a property on Brown School Road. The committee then whittled the list to two. But at the time of the May school board meeting, not enough particulars were available about the Bass site. The board met in closed session on Monday about the sites.

"They both equally support the community expansion and growth needs," Conway said. However, she said the Bass site was not ready for construction — the St. Charles site is.

Traffic, dust worrisome

Billy Williams, who moved into a home just south of St. Charles Road two months ago, sees the benefit to additional schools but does have some concerns about how changes in the neighborhood could affect him.

"I think it’s well needed. The thing that bothers me is I’m wondering how the traffic’s going to be when school gets in session," Williams said. "And now that you’re saying they’re going to add an elementary school, it’s going to be almost impossible."

Joanne Carter, who is new to the neighborhood, has experienced much worse than simple traffic delays from the construction of Battle High. Detours have forced her to drive as much as eight more miles to get to work, she said, and the idea of dealing with construction for another four years has her and her husband reconsidering living there, she said.

"We’ve only been here since April and I’m already kind of tired of it," Carter said. "They turn our water off all the time. I don’t know what they’re doing with the water pipes. Our water’s been turned off like four times. It’ll be like a day’s notice, or that afternoon that they’re going to turn our water off the next morning."

Carter also has concerns over what will happen to the neighborhood once the schools are completed.

"When the schools come, commercialism follows," Carter said. "Rock Bridge was the same way. There was nothing out there when they built Rock Bridge, and now everything gravitates toward the school."

Williams also said dust from the construction was worse than it should be.

"They need to do something about their dust control over there," Williams said. "I’ve been in construction myself as a project engineer and safety director, and they’re supposed to have a water truck over there watering that dirt and stuff down, and they’re not doing that."

Despite his concerns about traffic and dust, Williams said he looks forward to other benefits that development in the area will bring and that he thinks this is only the start of what Columbia should be doing.

"We’re missing a lot of stuff," Williams said. "The population of Columbia’s growing so fast, we need more schools than that. They just can’t keep up with it, man. It’s a bad deal."


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