School committee delays town hall meeting

A committee tasked with hashing out a 20-year facilities plan for the Jefferson City schools opted Thursday night to delay a town hall-style meeting in order to gather more information first.

Although the town hall was tentatively scheduled for April 22, many of the committee’s members questioned the need for one just yet. Instead they wanted to gather more cost estimates so that they could better answer the public’s questions when the time comes.

Called the “Long Range Facilities Planning Committee,” the group has been divided into two task forces: one to examine elementary and middle school needs and another to focus on ways to solve overcrowding at Simonsen 9th Grade Center and Jefferson City High School.

Last month the members of the high school subcommittee narrowed their ideas down to three main scenarios:

• Building two new high schools to replace the main building at 609 Union St.

• Building a new high school and remodeling the existing building.

• Building a single, large high school on the 609 Union St. campus.

The elementary subcommittee did something similar. That group trimmed their main ideas down to a few proposals, including: beefing up security district-wide; remodeling the old East Elementary School and building a new one, also on the city’s east side; and expanding Callaway Hills Elementary School to address residential growth north of the Missouri River.

But committee members felt they weren’t yet prepared to unveil those ideas to the public yet.

Although they were given some data about how much money would be raised if the district’s debt service levy is increased, it wasn’t the level of detail many on the committee were searching for. Several participants mentioned the need for more data about what it might cost to renovate the high school or build a new elementary.

Although estimates can be roughly guessed at — for example, Pioneer Trail Elementary School cost roughly $12 million to build and School of the Osage is adding an elementary for about $13 million — more precise estimates haven’t been calculated yet.

“I’m not sure why we’re having a town hall meeting,” said committee member Lonnie Schnieder. He noted one of the first questions the public is likely to ask will be about what the various expansions, renovations and new building projects may cost.

Another committee member, Arnold Parks, suggested holding a town hall meeting in the same month the Jefferson City Council is deciding whether or not to move forward with a conference center might be bad timing.

Facilitator Kenny Southwick, an educational planner with the Kansas City-based firm ACI Boland Architects, said the proposal for the town hall meeting was meant as a way to solicit the community’s insights on the three high school options and further prioritize the suggestions for the elementary schools.

He hoped to narrow the high school scenarios down to two — as a way to save the district money in the early planning stages. Although the subcommittee considered narrowing their choices from two to three, ultimately they stayed with three.

Bob Weber, who serves as JCPS Director of Facilities, asked the high school subcommittee to provide him with more detail — ideas about gym space and science laboratories and number of classrooms — that he could take to the ACI Boland architects.

“There’s going to be cost estimates,” he said. “But we need to know what you want to have in it.”

Rod Burnett, committee member, agreed that was a good idea.

“Let’s do our homework. We’ll put some detail to that,” he suggested to his peers.

The plan is to reconvene on April 24 to share that work and move the process forward.

Also on Thursday, the group learned more about another survey project the district is planning. Although they were invited by David Luther — assistant to the superintendent for school-community relations — to suggest potential questions, the group did not vote to add any queries of their own to the survey.

Some committee members said the district has paid for enough surveys at this point in time; others said they needed more time.

“I’m not ready to ask a question,” said Michael Couty. “We’re still in the process of gathering information for our own selves.”

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