Two new elementary schools set to open in next three years

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia elementary schools that have become overcrowded in recent years might finally be getting some relief.

Two new elementary schools are expected to be constructed on the northeast and southwest sides of town, two of the more rapidly growing sections of the city. The school in the northeast is planned to be completed for the 2015-16 school year, with the southwest school coming the following year in 2016-17.

Why are more schools needed?

The schools are being constructed to relieve some elementary school overcrowding problems in developing parts of Columbia. The northeast elementary school will provide another option for students on that side of town. This includes relieving Two Mile Prairie and Blue Ridge elementary schools, which both have more students than the buildings were designed to support.

Two Mile Prairie has a capacity of 200 students, but it had an enrollment of 336 in 2012-13, according to Columbia Public Schools data.

Patti Raynor, principal of Two Mile Prairie, said she will have to wait for the school to be built and new boundary lines to be drawn to see the full effect the new school will have on the enrollment in existing schools.

The anticipated relief would be welcomed by Raynor, who said her school uses nine trailers as classrooms for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. She said that Two Mile Prairie has had to add trailers in the past three years because of increasing enrollment.

"Nine trailers is a lot for a little school, but we make it work," Raynor said. "The goal has to be to relieve some stress and space on us; otherwise they wouldn't be building."

"We want to get rid of the trailers," District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said. "In order to get kids inside of physical buildings, we have to build actual buildings."

The southwest elementary school will address similar problems at Mill Creek and Rock Bridge elementary schools.

Baumstark said Mill Creek was originally designed to hold about 700 students, but had 864 enrolled in 2012-13. Additionally, Rock Bridge had 594 students in 2012-13 despite a capacity of 520.

"In general, Columbia is expanding exponentially, and we haven't been able to keep up," she said. "Mill Creek is a main area of concern. It's busting at the seams."

Tabetha Rawlings, principal of Mill Creek, said they also had to bring in trailers to help with overcrowding, as well as have specialty classes, such as art and music, in regular classrooms. Usually, specialty classes would have their own classrooms.

"You have to have room for all the kids and do what you need to do to make it work," Rawlings said. "It would relieve stress on teachers, as well as make it easier to get to know more students and families. It's hard to learn that many names when enrollment is so big."

In addition to having to add trailers, overcrowding at Mill Creek has led to much larger class sizes. Mandy Llewellyn, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Mill Creek, said in her five years as a parent of school-age children, the large class sizes seemed like the norm until she talked to friends with children in other elementary schools.

"My kids have never had a class with fewer than 23 kids, and they're usually up around 26 to 28 kids," Llewellyn said. "I have friends in other districts that have never had more than 20."

She said the larger class sizes could make it harder for children to interact with teachers on a personal level and that one-on-one meetings would be "near impossible." She said she hopes the new school will help alleviate some of these pressures.

"We're very hopeful for a school sooner rather than later. Once parents see a site chosen and decisions being made, we'll feel better," Llewellyn said. "But everyone's doing the best they can to make it a safe and healthy environment in the near future. I know the primary concern is nothing but the best for our kids."

Where will the new schools be?

The northeast school will be adjacent to the new Battle High School on St. Charles Road. Construction can't begin until the building's design is finalized, but the school is expected to open in 2015.

The plan for the southwest school is not as developed, but a school is still expected by 2016. Baumstark said there were three sites being considered for the new school, though one was recently eliminated.

The remaining sites are the Linnemeyer site, which is 30 acres on the southwest corner of Route K and High Point Lane, and the Potterfield property, a 36-acre site on the southeast corner of Route K and Old Plank Road.

Where will the money come from?

The schools' construction will be funded by two bond issues that were approved by voters in recent elections. A $120 million bond issue was approved in 2010 and another $50 million bond was approved in 2012. Portions of both of these two bonds are planned to be used for the two new schools, in addition to funding other building and maintenance projects.

What happens next?

Once the site for the southwest school is selected, the district will have to go through another redistricting process to incorporate the new schools into attendance areas. Baumstark said the process is quite detailed, with 20 to 30 boundary line scenarios that will be taken into consideration. The committee will look at demographics and where the most students live, as well as natural boundaries.

Two additional elementary schools also are planned as part of a 10-year bond plan, Baumstark said. The next bond issue that could contribute to the third school is expected to be on the ballot in April 2014. According to the district's website, the bond issue to fund the fourth school would not be up for a vote until April 2016.

Supervising editor is Shaina Cavazos.

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