The Columbia School Board voted 6-1 Monday night to spend more than $1 million to cover grass athletic fields with artificial turf at Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools.
Board member Don Ludwig called the installation of artificial turf “a more efficient use of landlocked space,” giving a wider range of students — from physical education classes to marching bands — a chance to use the fields. Right now, access to the fields is limited to keep them in good shape.
Board member Elton Fay, who also voted in favor of the artificial turf, emphasized the benefits to the community.
“I think this community is ready to invest a little more in the physical activity of our kids,” Fay said. “I think we’ll all benefit from it.”
The only dissenting vote came from Darin Preis, who said working to create a single community field would be more fiscally responsible. He said the schools’ money might be better used for more basic needs.
In other business, Superintendent Phyllis Chase said the recent rise in gas prices could add substantially to the district’s transportation costs. The district budgeted $396,000 for diesel fuel this year, but because of the increase, Chase said the district expects to be over budget $250,000.
Preis suggested that students and community members consider walking or carpooling to school and work.
“I think it’s up to all of us to relieve some of the stress of gas prices,” he said.
Chase said 16,605 students enrolled on the first day of school, up 201 from the year before.
“We had 100 kindergartners show up from we know not where,” she said, forcing the district to add five new sections.
In effort to meet the board’s goal to narrow the gap in achievement between groups of students, the district will be among 24 other schools in the country to take part in the Minority Student Achievement Network.
To support the goal, the board voted to amend the budget to provide an additional $79,230 in services and supplies. Other strategies include a review program to prepare minority students for college admissions tests and additional assistance at Field Elementary School.
The board also voted to approve an $800,000 grant to enhance science education in the district, which would partner schools with other institutions such as MU.