Columbia Public Schools (CPS) is set to hold a no-tax-increase bond issue for the remaining $5 million needed in funding a new middle school on Sinclair Road that will feed into RBHS.
The bond issue voting will take place on April 3. The middle school comes in an effort to accommodate the continued growth in south Columbia, CPS Director of Community Relations Michelle Baumstark said.
“The total project cost to build the middle school, using bond funds, is $34 million,” Baumstark said. “The district has $29 million that approved by voters in previous elections for the project and will be asking voters to approve the remaining $5 million necessary in the April 3, 2018 election.”
CPS hope to solve the packed school district with a new southwest middle school in 2020, two years earlier than originally planned, Baumstark said. CPS purchased land on Sinclair road following the 2016 bond issue election, which approved funds for the new middle school. Several decisions regarding attendance logistics have yet to be finalized, and boundary lines are expected to be a focus of upcoming CPS action.
“Gentry Middle School has more than 900 students in a school designed for 600-650 students,” Baumstark said. “Last year, the school district adjusted the boundary in order to help manage the continued growth until a more permanent solution of another middle school can be put into place.”
“CPS will be drawing boundary lines for the new middle school soon,” RBHS principal Jennifer Rukstad said. “It is my understanding they will redraw for Gentry then, and will adjust for the high schools, as well at the same time.”
Currently, students of the southwest middle school will graduate to RBHS, Rukstad said. For some students at Gentry, the change cannot come soon enough. Danny O’Toole, an eighth grade student at Gentry, describes the classroom environment as often chaotic and packed. O’Toole recalls one instance of particular chaos for a substitute teacher.
“A bunch of kids got up out of their chairs and did whatever they wanted,” O’Toole said. “There were so many people in the class it got crazy. I think the new middle school is a good idea because it will give students more space.”
Graduates of Gentry agree with O’Toole’s concerns. Sophomore Raiyan Yousuf attended Jefferson Middle School for sixth and seventh grade but had to move to Gentry after a boundary line change and noticed a stark difference between the schools.
“At Jeff it wasn’t crowded; we all had our own lockers,” Yousuf said. “But once I got to Gentry it was two kids to a locker, along with a lunch line that was as long as lunch itself. At Jeff there was no problem with that.”
Both CPS administrators and students look toward the new middle school as an outlet for community growth. Columbia and RBHS will see the impacts of the change within the next few years.
“This middle school is really coming at the right time,” O’Toole said. “Columbia is growing bigger, and our schools should grow with us.”