School bond issue

Saturday, March 31, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:45 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

On April 3, the Columbia School District will ask voters to approve a $60 million bond issue — the first of three — intended to alleviate overcrowding, make building improvements, air condition five schools and provide more technology in classrooms.

About $22 million of the bond proceeds would go toward the first construction phase of a new high school. This first phase would include a cafeteria, commons, media center and classrooms for about 600 students.

If approved, another $18 million of the bond’s proceeds would fund the construction of a new elementary school.

Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendent for student support services, said the new elementary school would likely resemble Paxton Keeley Elementary School, which was built in 2001 and houses about 700 students.

The bond issue also includes $7 million for building improvements to the district’s 33 buildings. If the bond passes, a variety of improvements, including renovations to casework, ceilings, doors, electrical, plumbing, roofing and replacing old windows, will be completed.

Also included in the bond issue is $7.2 million to air condition five of Columbia’s elementary schools: Benton, Blue Ridge, Fairview, Parkade and Russell Boulevard. Of the 19 elementary schools in the district, only four are currently air-conditioned.

If approved, $5 million of the bond proceeds will help fund the second year of the district’s technology plan. The goal is to provide essential hardware to every core classroom in the district by investing in SMART Boards, data projectors, laptops for teachers and laptop labs for students.

Superintendent Phyllis Chase said the district can issue the $60 million in bonds without raising taxes because Columbia’s current bond rating is less than 15 percent of the district’s total assessed valuation, which is the bonding capacity set by state law.

The district’s current assessed valuation of property taxes is $1.7 billion, Chase said. The district would use money from the property taxes to pay off the bond in increments of about $5,000 for an estimated five years.

The district’s long-range facilities planning committee took the results of an educational adequacy study, an engineering study and a community engagement process — all done in 2006 — and recommended the district ask voters to approve three separate bond issues, each for $60 million.

The next two referendums will be in 2011 and 2013 to address the rest of the committee’s recommendations.

Barnett called the April 3 bond issue “the biggest ever” and attributed the request for

$60 million in bonds to the district’s growth over the last decade.

The referendum must pass by a 57 percent majority, or four-sevenths, according to state law.

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