COLUMBIA — Monta Welch of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition had the undivided attention of Superintendent Phyllis Chase and other school district representatives during a Chat with Chase on Thursday morning.
Despite months of controversy over the placement of the next public high school, Welch was the only community member present at the morning session to discuss the school’s construction, while three adults and one child attended the evening session.
The district’s attempts to engage the community, at least with the past two “Chat with Chase” sessions, do not appear to have been successful.
Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barnett said she doesn’t know why more members of the public do not attend the Chat with Chase sessions. The attendance was not high last year, and Barnett said the district plans to evaluate the program to decide whether it will continue next school year.
Barnett said the sessions are publicized in many ways, including announcements at board meetings and in the district’s quarterly report and advertisements in the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Even if the program, which began last school year, does not continue, Barnett said the district will still try to foster community discussion. “We’ll continue to consider other methods to dialogue with Dr. Chase,” she said.
During the Thursday morning meeting, Welch spoke about environmentally friendly designs she would like to see in the new high school, such as geothermal heating systems. Welch said she “strongly encouraged” environmentally friendly and energy-efficient designs be included during the construction of the school to avoid having to retrofit buildings later.
Chase said DLR Group, which is designing the high school, is keeping energy efficiency in mind. She also suggested Welch discuss her ideas with Andy Anderson, the architect designing the school, and the committee working on the building plans.
Welch, whose youngest child is a junior at Rock Bridge High School, said she came to the session to show that individuals can make a difference in Columbia on environmental issues the entire world faces.
During the Thursday evening discussion, community members expressed interest in the site selection process.
A site evaluation committee was created Aug. 28 to evaluate six potential sites for the new high school. The committee’s recommendations to the school board ranked the St. Charles Road site as first. Chase said the board will make a decision on the new school’s location at its November meeting.
James Whitt, who has a child at Hickman High School and attended the meeting with his fifth-grade son, Jimmy, had concerns about how “family-friendly” the new high school process will be in terms of setting boundaries and separating siblings into multiple high schools. Chase said there would be possibilities for families to have their children remain in the same high school as their siblings.
A separate committee will begin organizing new school boundaries in January.