Some raise issue with more land for schools

Tuesday’s bond issue would use $1.2 million to pay for land for two new schools.
Thursday, April 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:13 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Supporters and critics of the $22.5 million Columbia School District bond issue agree that the district needs money for improving and maintaining existing facilities. They disagree, however, over using $1.2 million of it to buy land for a new high school and a new elementary school.

A super majority — 57 percent — of voters will have to approve the district’s request for $22.5 million in general obligation bonds on Tuesday. The issue would not increase property taxes and would extend debt payment for another three years.

The bond issue would address construction, maintenance and equipment in the district. The school district has proposed setting aside $1.2 million of the bond to start buying land for a new high school and new elementary school — money some think hasn’t been justified.

“Enrollment has leveled off and is even expected to drop,” said Henry Lane, a sixth-time candidate for school board who strongly opposes the bond issue. “Why do we need to acquire land for new schools?”

Deputy Superintendent Jacque Cowherd said the land acquisition piece of the bond issue is in keeping with a strategic facilities plan developed by the district in 2000. This bond issue will be the last one in the six-year facilities plan.

“Right now, there are 164 trailers at elementary schools in this district,” Cowherd said. “A new elementary school would look at getting kids out of those trailers, which was part of our strategic plan.”

Plans for a new high school stem from the school board’s desire to keep smaller high schools with enrollments of 1,300 to 1,400, Cowherd said. According to the district Web site, Rock Bridge High School has 1,495 students and Hickman High School has 2,082.

“The facilities plan, which followed the school board’s wishes, says by the end of the plan we should go out and get land for the next high school,” Cowherd said.

Lane said the district has plenty of land to work with, citing a 13-acre tract of land on Ballenger Lane and other land surrounding existing buildings.

Cowherd said there is land in reserve that belongs to the district, but the 75 to 100 acres needed for a high school and the 30 acres needed for an elementary school make the smaller amounts of land not usable.

Martina Pounds, a real estate agent and another school board candidate, supports the bond issue as a whole but opposes the $1.2 million land acquisition piece. She said she thinks it’s too much money and too much land.

“I’m not saying we don’t have to look into the future, but the whole thing sounds like a lot,” Pounds said. “A hundred acres sounds huge.”

Pounds said she also thinks the $1.2 million amount could be reduced by looking into further negotiations with developers.

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