Columbia school leaders detail upcoming $50 million ballot issue

The district asks voters to approve the proposal in April

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Superintendent Chris Belcher met with a local political group to discuss the plans for Columbia Public School's $50 million bond proposal set for April's ballot.

It must receive 57 percent of the votes to pass and comes with a four-cent debt service levy increase. Belcher originally estimated the increase would be around eight cents, but a stronger economy and an increase in assess evaluations led to the lower, four-cent levy increase.

This bond proposal is not the first and will not be the last from the school district. The increase will allow the district to continue to request bond funds every two years without additional levy increase.

The requests are part of a ten-year plan to deal with enrollment increase. In the last ten years, student enrollment has increased by more than 1,700 students, making CPS the fifth largest school district in Missouri. With roughly 17,905 students currently, the district estimates another thousand to enroll within the next five years.

With that in mind, more than half of the 34 school buildings are 40 years or older. Only two of the schools are less than ten years old. Several of the buildings need roofing, heating and cooling and other general, operational improvements. One common need is more space for more students.

Below is a list of the bonds requested and what each bond funds:

2010 Bond Request Plan (Approved)

In 2010, CPS received $120 million in bond funds with no tax increase. Belcher called it, "the perfect storm." In 2010, the district found bonds under four percent interest rates and the recession created cheaper bids in the construction industry.

Part of those funds built the newly-opened Battle High School, which the costs to build ran under budget. The bond also renovated the gyms at Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools, helped to install new air conditioning in several schools and started the construction for the new elementary school located next to Battle High School. The school is set to open in 2015.

2012 Bond Request Plan (Approved)

By 2012, CPS requested a $50 million bond with a 12-cent debt service levy increase. The funds were issued this month and have started to making technology improvements by installing wireless internet service in all of its schools.

CPS has started the design process for a southwest elementary school set to launch in August 2016. Once that's complete, the school district will begin the designing of an early childhood learning facility located on the Lange Middle School property this summer. That will open in 2017.

The bond will also cover the expansions to the West Boulevard and Shepard Boulevard elementary schools. Construction at Shepard will be finished in 2015 while the expansion at West Boulevard will wrap up in 2016.

2014 Bond Request Plan (Proposed)

This year, the $50 million bond proposal will fund several more projects.

Around $14.5 million will be used for building improvements in more than 30 buildings, including $4.4 million in renovations at Douglass High School. That will include new heating and cooling units and exterior maintenance. Another $1.9 million will be spent to replace the field lights, concession stands and restrooms at Rock Bridge High School. Right now, the facilities do not meet athletic facility code compliance.

"There are concessions and bathroom areas that were built on some fundraiser dollars by a booster club that isn't up to code and are quite disgusting," Belcher said.

Around $28.6 million will be used to build a new elementary school to replace Cedar Ridge in east Columbia. Built in 1956, the building was made to serve only 100 children. Current enrollment shows those numbers have doubled, forcing students to work out in trailers.

It's not the only school that uses trailers. In fact, trailers house 18 percent of all students in the district with more than 123 in use. Since 2012, CPS has eliminated 30 trailers. They plan to gradually remove more trailers as they continue to use bond money to make the necessary expansions onto existing buildings.

For Cedar Ridge Elementary, Belcher said expanding any further on the four-acre property will conflict with various property codes. This has forced the school district to make the plans to build a new school down the road on other land. However, no plans or estimates can be made until the community votes on the bond proposal.

"We don't do anything with public schools without your authorization to do it, so we can't say where it's going to be or what it's going to cost until we get your authorization to do it," Belcher said.

See the picture in "Related Content" above to see what the average homeowner will pay with the four-cent tax levy increase.

Future Bond Proposals

CPS will continue to request bond funds between $40 and $50 million dollars every two years to continue to accommodate growth, technology improvements, roofs and other critical facility needs. However, Belcher said they do not anticipate any tax levy increases for those proposals. 

Projects for this 10-year plan will last until 2024.

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