Civic leaders discuss schools, roads and tourism

Monday, November 5, 2012 | 9:28 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Officials from the city of Columbia, Boone County and Columbia Public Schools met on Monday to discuss schools, roads and tourism.

The meeting featured presentations on Battle High School, a potential bike share program, a tourism ambassadors program and road improvements.

Battle High School opening, new elementary schools, bond plan discussed

Construction of Battle is ahead of schedule, Chris Belcher, superintendent for Columbia Public Schools, said.

The new high school should open by early March and be functional by June, Belcher said. If completed ahead of schedule, the building will be open for tours. The school will be open for sports practices over the summer.

About 1,100 ninth, 10th and 11th graders will attend the school when it opens for the 2013-14 school year. The next year, students will attend all four grade levels.

The district is also proposing two new elementary schools. One will be built on the land next to Battle and the district hopes to break ground on the 400-student school next September to be completed in 2015, Belcher said.

Another elementary school is planned for the southwest side of Columbia. It is projected to open in 2016 and house 600 students. Belcher said the district hopes to get the school completed as fast as possible to help enrollment at Mill Creek Elementary School. District officials say construction will start in summer 2014.

In the next few years, the district will ask the public to vote on four bonds that will go toward improving school buildings and updateing technology.

In April 2014, voters will decide on a $50 million bond and an 8-cent debt service levy increase. The money from the levy will go to the general operating fund. The district will ask for $40 million bonds in 2014, 2016 and 2020.

Tourism ambassadors

Visitors to Columbia and Boone County can expect 150 certified ambassadors to offer tips and information about the city and the surrounding area. 

Amy Schneider, director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a new Columbia Certified Tourism Ambassadors program will begin in Spring 2013. The program needs volunteers and hospitality staff to answer questions and offer advice to visitors in Columbia and Boone County.

Tourism ambassadors will receive training so they can answer specific questions about the surrounding area. Potential ambassadors could include airport employees, restaurant servers, hotel front desk staff members and retail employees, Schneider said.

The bureau markets Boone County events such as the Centralia Anchor Festival and the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival. 

"We are already marketing for county-wide attractions... the next step is to know that anyone who visits us is a potential citizen; it is someone who could potentially move here," Schneider said.

The Columbia Tourism Ambassadors program is part of the national Certified Tourism Ambassadors program, which employs approximately 8,000 tourism ambassadors in 15 states.

Bike share program could come to Columbia

Lelande Rehard, a city manager fellow for the city of Columbia, gave a brief history of bike share programs. There are about 170 cities with bike share programs worldwide. The first program was in Amsterdam, started in 1965 by a group of anarchists. The bikes were free, but each one was stolen within a week, Rehard said.

Some cities have set up mobile stations where riders can pay with a credit card when they use the bike or they can buy an annual pass. An annual pass could be around $100 or $40 for a six-month pass.

Rehard said a bike share program would reduce the amount of traffic in the city. Also, if a bus didn’t go all the way to a certain destination, someone could go to a bike station and finish their commute, he said.

Challenges include operating the program during the winter, dealing with theft or vandalism and funding and maintaining the program. A successful bike share program would need a station of 10 bikes every half-mile, Rehard said.

Community leaders expressed interest in partnering with MU to make the program a success. The university already has a bike share program of its own.

County road, bridge and interchange progress

Changes are coming to Boone County's roads. Route Z will be widened, an Interstate 70 interchange will be rebuilt and new roundabouts will be constructed, Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said.

The I-70 interchange at Route Z will be improved through demolition of the existing overpass and construction of a three-lane overpass by the highway department. Between the overpass and St. Charles Road, Route Z will be widened with a three-foot shoulder on each side, Atwill said.

A roundabout and a new road were discussed to provide better access from the east side of Battle Avenue to the new Battle High School, set to open August 2013. 

Atwill said there will be a press conference on Nov. 14 to discuss the construction plans.

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