COLUMBIA - A sixth site offered late will be considered for Columbia’s next public high school. Estimated infrastructure costs will be presented at the next meeting of a committee charged with recommending a site. And the architect for the school said that to get it open by fall 2010, a decision needs to be made no later than November.
Speaking Tuesday evening to the 21-member committee and about 40 members of the public, Andy Anderson, an architect from DLR Group, said time is of the essence if the high school is to be completed by June 2010, which would leave a window for the district to move in before the school year starts.
“We do have the ability to make up a month here or there in the design process,” Anderson said, referring to the fact that the firm was scheduled to begin designing the school Sept. 1.
In order for the timeline to be met, the committee needs to have a recommendation ready by the end of October and the Columbia School Board needs to decide on a site by November.
Anderson said the ideal scenario is for eight people to work full time on the school’s design; even then, it will take about nine months. In addition, the process requires one month to take bids, one month to produce contracts for approval by the school board and 22 to 24 months to build the school. If work began in December then the closest completion date would be June 2010.
Dave Bennett of Engineering Surveys & Services spoke to the committee about the infrastructure needs of each site except for the Bass site, including sewer, water and telephone. He said information will be collected for the Bass site, which the committee unanimously decided to consider, before the next meeting, tentatively set for Oct. 9. Bennett said infrastructure costs are hard to put a finger on and some unknown variables will exist but that cost estimates will be available by Oct. 5.
At the start of the meeting, Jim Ritter, facilitator of the committee, said committee members are not part of a site selection committee — their job is to recommend a site, and it’s the school board’s job to select one. Each committee member is charged with ranking the sites from one to six to come up with a collective recommendation.
“The site selection remains the responsibility of the Board of Education,” Ritter said.
Ritter said it is not the charge of the committee to solicit other sites. However, the school board has the authority to consider any sites, even those the committee does not review.
The committee will need to have two, possibly three, meetings before ranking the sites, said Ritter. He asked that committee member comments on each site be limited to five minutes, and no member objected. He also asked that members who have prepared extensive material regarding the site e-mail that information to other members.
Ritter proposed members of the public be allowed to comment for a maximum of five minutes at the end of each meeting, and no member objected.
Chris Mallory, the school district’s consultant, spoke of land acquisition and acreage. He said 50 acres is a recommended minimum for a comprehensive high school.
Hickman High School is on 40 acres, and Rock Bridge High School is on almost 41 acres. Mallory said both schools face space issues.
He said the district should choose a site that would allow for future expansion.
“Down the line, strong consideration would need to be given to career and technical programming at this high school,” Mallory said.
Don Ludwig, chairman of the District Enrollment Planning Committee and a committee member, presented enrollment information during the meeting. The enrollment planning committee, which will ultimately set new school boundaries and thus is tied to placement of the high school, has two guiding principles at the moment.
One is that the boundaries of the future high school need to closely mirror the demographics of the school district as a whole, Ludwig said. A key factor for setting the school boundaries will be students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, the majority of whom are in northwest Columbia. The idea is to not concentrate those students within one boundary.
Ludwig said the enrollment planning committee will also be sensitive to bus and personal transportation with regard to student safety.
“When the kids are on the bus, they aren’t learning,” Ludwig said. “The shorter the ride the better.”
Committee member Ben Londeree, also chairman of Boone County Smart Growth Coalition, asked Ludwig whether the location of a fourth comprehensive high school had been considered in relation to the placement of the third one. (Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools are considered comprehensive high schools.) Londree said projections for Columbia foresee a lot of growth and another high school would need to be built in 10 to 15 years.
Ritter said the placement of the third comprehensive high school would impact where any future school would go.
The meeting Tuesday night followed about four months of community discussion that percolated up from a few people who opposed the school board’s approval of the Vemer property in mid-June. In particular were concerns about the property’s distance and lack of infrastructure, including sewers and roads.
Community discussion swelled to the point that the board said it would consider other sites, and last month Superintendent Phyllis Chase appointed the citizen committee.
“Lots of great information was shared,” Chase said after the meeting, “and that’s a good thing.”
Missourian reporters Tori Moss, Rebekah Sasse, Audrey Spalding and Lyndsey Nelson contributed to this report.