Columbia — The Columbia School Board will discuss and probably vote on whether to change the location for the district’s next high school Monday night.
The board will be presented with the High School Site Evaluation Committee’s recommendation of 80 acres known as the St. Charles Road Development site in the northeastern part of the district.
The committee recommended that site over five others, including 80 acres in the southern part of the district known as the Vemer property, which the Columbia Public School District purchased earlier for $500,000.
Board members Steve Calloway, Karla DeSpain, Jan Mees, Darin Preis and Tom Rose all said they were pleased with the committee’s work and recommendation. The other two board members, David Ballenger and Michelle Gadbois, were not available for comment.
“They (the committee) had a ton of information, probably more than they even needed,” Preis said.
The committee requested road cost estimates, population density information and emergency response times in addition to the surveys made by Engineering Surveys & Services.
Board members said all of the information the committee had has been made available to them. None would say which site they favored — though when pressed, Rose hinted at his opinion.
“I’m probably in line with what the committee suggested,” he said.
Mees voiced a similar sentiment: “I’m pretty much going to reserve my decision until the whole board has had a chance to compare feelings. I do think the committee got a really good feel for the right place, and I would like to support the work they have done.”
Calloway and Preis also found the committee’s recommendation feasible.
“I tended to concur with the committee’s top choice,” Calloway said.
Preis also said that the Vemer property, which the committee ranked near the bottom of the list of proposed sites, is still viable.
“That’s why we chose it in the first place,” he said.
Preis mentioned cost as one of his top concerns — the St. Charles Road property is for sale at $900,000 —— as well as finding a site with construction-friendly topography.
“I was looking for a piece of land that’s ready to go,” he said.
Other board members mentioned future need and student safety as their main concerns.
“We need to think about a high school that’s going to last 50, 70 to 100 years,” Calloway said.
Hickman High School opened 70 years ago at its current location at Business Loop 70 West and Providence Road; Rock Bridge High School, on the south end of town past Nifong Boulevard, is 34 years old.
“Our other two high schools are too cramped for the needs of today versus the needs of when they were built,” Mees said. “The high school site needs to be sure to have enough acreage to allow for growth because what we have now is not big enough.”
The needs of a high school site are not limited to the classroom building. Mees mentioned athletic facilities and parking lots, both of which increase acreage needs.
Calloway is also looking for a site with more acreage than found at either Hickman or Rock Bridge.
“If we can get 80 acres, then I think that’s what we ought to get,” he said.
Four of the six considered properties have 80 or more acres. The Bass and Payne properties do not.
Rose said he doesn’t want a hurried decision now — the board needs to make a decision soon so that the school can be done for a fall 2010 opening — to result in the need for unplanned add-ons later.
Because so many high school students drive themselves to school, transportation along Interstate 70 is a worry for many. The committee discussed transportation safety at length during its Oct. 9 meeting.
“I-70 is just a mess,” committee member Lynda Baumgartner said.
Board members Rose, DeSpain, Mees and Calloway listed student safety as one of the top considerations they use when evaluating a high school site.
“As far as safety is concerned, I want to pick the site that creates the safest environment for our kids to get to school,” Mees said.
Public complaint about the selection of the Vemer property followed the board’s approval of it in June; among the concerns were infrastructure costs, the selection process and the site’s location in southern Columbia.
If the board goes for the St. Charles Road site or another, it will have to decide what to do with the Vemer land. Calloway, DeSpain, Mees, Pries and Rose all said they have not considered selling the land.
“That land is already owned by the district, and it will continue to be owned by the district regardless of the outcome of the school board meeting,” DeSpain said.
Using the Vemer site on down the road was voiced by a few community members at the Oct. 9 meeting. One suggestion was that it be held in reserve for a fourth high school.
“There’s no saying we’re not going to use that site for something else later,” Rose said. “We always have to keep in mind what’s best for our students.”
The Columbia School Board will also:
• Consider the lease of a 100 by 100-foot portion of the Mill Creek Elementary School property for a 150-foot cell tower for Sprint/Nextel.
• Hear a presentation from the district’s Chief Operations Officer Nick Boren on student bus ride times. At its October meeting, the board asked Boren for more information about the number of children in the district who have hour-long bus rides.
• Hear a presentation from Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent of secondary education, about the plan to transition middle and junior high schools to a sixth- through eighth-grade configuration.