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Columbia schools $50 million bond issue passes

Voters in Columbia approved Tuesday a $50 million bond issue to expand and upgrade Columbia Public Schools facilities.

The issue, which would raise property taxes in the city by four cents for every $100 of assessed valuation, passed 7122 to 4094.

On a home with actual value at $100,000, the district reported a property tax increase of $7.60 annually.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the progressive nature of Columbia and the way the voters support the public schools,” said outgoing superintendent Chris Belcher. “This is the last tax and bond issue for a long time.”

Included in the issue was $28.6 million for a new elementary school to replace Cedar Ridge on the city’s east side.

“That east side of town is the next hot spot,” Belcher told ABC 17 News. “This is a good plan and we just need to work the plan.”

Construction on the new elementary school was expected to start in spring 2016. Belcher had previously announced his retirement in July, with assistant superintendent for elementary education Peter Stiepleman hired to replace him.

“We have to keep building in order to keep up with the people that are moving into town,” said newly elected school board member Paul Cushing. “I think we’re very lucky to be in a situation like that, our community is growing and vibrant.”

Cushing was elected again Tuesday after resigning from the board to move to Minnesota in 2012.

Other projects included $2.7 million for roof replacement at various district buildings, $1.8 million for athletic field upgrades at Rock Bridge High School, and $4 million for technology upgrades like infrastructure and servers.

“We want to make sure that all of our schools, particularly Douglass [High School], are equitable,” said school board member Helen Wade, minutes after being re-elected. “We want to make sure all of our students have the very finest learning environments, no matter where they live.”

School board member Jonathan Sessions, who was also re-elected Tuesday, said the bond issue would help the district continue to eliminate trailers at schools.

Columbia Public Schools had enjoyed strong previous public support, as well. The district had previously announced that voters would be asked to approve $40 million issues n each 2016, 2018 and 2020, which would not raise taxes.

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