Schools’ future moves closer to public hearing

Still up in air if public will get to ask questions

After nearly a year of researching approaches to expand the public school facilities in Jefferson City, the committee tasked with the job settled on a date to share their work with the public.

The plan is to hold a public meeting from 7-9 p.m. on Oct. 7, at a location yet to be determined — possibly in the Jefferson City High School cafeteria.

For several months the group has weighed three main ideas for solving overcrowding issues at the high school.

One of those plans — Option A — calls for a stem-to-stern renovation of the existing 609 Union St. campus. Option B calls for renovating the high school and building a new senior high on land east of Missouri 179. The third plan — Option C — considers building two new high schools in town.

After a little debate, the group’s consensus was that leaders would explain their thoughts regarding all three options, but recommend Option B as the most feasible. (A proposal similar to Option A was defeated by voters in 2013; Option C is regarded as too expensive.)

Option B calls for spending $40 million to renovate the 609 Union St. campus and $76.4 million to build a new high school.

At the elementary and middle school levels, the group is proposing a series of ideas to address space needs for the next 20 years:

• Building a 400-student elementary on the city’s east side for $13.8 million.

• Adding 10 classrooms at Callaway Hills Elementary, with some other renovations, for $5.5 million.

• Adding a 400-student elementary on the city’s west side for $19.3 million.

• Building a third middle school in Callaway County for $34.4 million.

• Renovating Lewis and Clark and Thomas Jefferson middle schools for $13 million.

Three local leaders — Brad Bates, Rod Burnett and Lonnie Schneider — were elected to explain the committees through processes and attempt to handle questions from the crowd.

Visitors to the meeting will be encouraged to respond with their thoughts on comment cards. People who attend likely will be divided into smaller groups of 5-15 individuals for table discussions, with a leader from each group invited to summarize the small group’s thoughts and perceptions of the proposed plan.

The group was less certain if they should offer an “open mic” so that people could share their own ideas about the proposals.

Amy Freeman noted people may want to vent about other problems in the school district and may be upset if they are asked to confine their remarks only to facilities.

“The public needs an opportunity to ask questions about the facilities plan,” Pam Murray said. “The public may come up with something we haven’t thought of.”

Board member Alan Mudd supported the idea of giving participants at least some venue to discuss the issues and having their main questions asked and answered. “There some value in people feeling like they’ve been heard,” he said.

The group also spent part of the meeting discussing the future role of Nichols Career Center, after committee members Jackie Coleman and Pamela Murray shared some insights the gleaned from visiting the Columbia Public Schools program.

Coleman has become an outspoken proponent of supporting and expanding the career center’s offerings. She said she feels the committee needs more information about career and technical education before it concludes its work.

“I would recommend we meet with the Nichols Career Center’s director and staff to get a better understanding … until we do that assessment, how do we know what our space needs are?” Coleman said.

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