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Bond issue would bring new Columbia middle school

A new middle school could be coming to Columbia.

ABC 17 reported on Monday, the Columbia school board approved a new bond issue and tax levy for the April ballot.

If voters pass the measures, about 20 percent of the $30 million bond issue would go toward building a new middle school in southwest Columbia. And some of the money generated from the 65-cent tax levy would help keep it open.

In the last four years, Columbia Public School enrollment has grown by more than 300 students.

“We’ve seen growth all over Columbia, and we’ve done some things to address some of the needs in other parts of town,” Michelle Baumstark with CPS said. “We’ve already gone through a redistricting process with attendance areas within our community. And we’re still seeing significant growth in south Columbia.”

Nearly 3,900 students attend CPS middle schools. And right now, overcrowding is an issue at some of those schools. Thirteen trailers sit outside Gentry Middle School to hold all of the extra students. And 12 more sit outside of Smithton Middle School.

“Gentry Middle School is our largest middle school, it’s over 800 students for a building that was really meant for about 600,” Baumstark said. “So that’s a challenge for us as well.”

If voters approve the bond issue in April, construction of a new middle school would begin in 2020. Four million dollars would go toward buying the land. And another $2 million would pay for the school’s design.

“We will look at what pieces of property might be available and then begin to have some discussions about what that school might look like,” Baumstark said.

But the bond issue would not be enough money to sustain the new school, according to CPS officials. Money from from the tax levy would also be needed to keep it running. An estimated $750,000 a year would be needed to regular operations, including things like utility bills and staff salaries.

“South Columbia isn’t going to be receding any time soon, and so we do need to consider how we might address that continued growth,” Baumstark said.

Right now, it is too early in the process to know exactly where in southwest Columbia the school might be and how many students it may hold, Baumstark said.

The middle school would ideally be set to open by 2022, according to CPS.

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