Schools request to be put on ballot

School Board will seek voters’ permission to borrow $60 million for new schools and other projects.
Tuesday, January 9, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:05 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Columbia School Board agreed Monday night to ask voters for permission to borrow $60 million this April.

If approved by 57 percent of voters, money raised by issuing bonds would pay for the construction of the first phase of a new high school, a new elementary school and other capital improvements to existing schools. The building projects are intended to ease crowding in schools and to address public dissatisfaction with the number of transitions students must endure as they work their way from kindergarten through high school.

“I can’t wait,” said board member Darin Preis, referring to the construction projects.

Superintendent Phyllis Chase said the board has considered several sites for the new schools, but it is not ready to comment on locations at this time.

The board does not know how much the new high school would cost but predicted that the new elementary school would cost between $14 million and $18 million to complete.

“The cost to construct it will be slightly more than the construction costs of our last elementary school, Paxton Keeley, which we built five years ago,” Chase said.

“The first phase of construction on the secondary school will include construction of common space buildings such as a gymnasium and a cafeteria,” she said. “These are spaces we can complete and then add onto later.”

The money would also pay for the installation of air conditioning in some schools as well as technology projects and other building projects.

The board’s request is slated to appear on the April 3 ballot and is intended to be the first of three; the school board plans subsequent $60 million packages in 2011 and 2013.

If voters approve it in April, the district would amend its long-range facilities plan to reflect only two transitions rather than the current three: Elementary schools would include kindergarten through fifth grade, intermediate schools would include sixth through eighth grades and high school would include ninth through 12th grades. The Long-Range Facilities Planning Committee presented a series of recommendations reflecting those changes to the board in November 2006.

But after the committee announced its recommendations, the district realized it needed more money. Chase was asked to create a list of options detailing which issues should be addressed first, the cost of financing these issues and whether a bond or tax levy should be included on the April ballot.

The board in December picked the option of three $60 million requests over two other proposals: one that called for only two bond issues totalling $180 million and another that called for three bond issues plus a 13-cent increase in the district’s tax levy. The latter option would have generated $295 million.

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