New high school construction progressing on plan

photo by Asa Lory

Building an education: Columbia’s new public high school, Battle High, is still under construction. It is slated for a fall 2013 opening.

Isaac Pasley

Building an education: Columbia’s new public high school, Battle High, is under construction. The building is slated for a fall 2013 opening. Photo by Asa Lory
Throughout all of 2011, the Columbia Secondary Education Planning Committee has worked on planning the new Battle High School, scheduled to open in the fall of 2013.
Since January 2011, this 25-person committee, headed by co-chairs Dr. Wanda Brown, Darin Preis and Don Ludwig, has discussed plans for redrawing district boundaries and recommended them to the school board. In making their decision, the committee has needed to examine several factors, such as enrollment trends, bus routes and population growth.
“Redrawing boundary lines for the intermediate schools and the high schools is a really big job,” Brown said. “We have a committee, the Secondary Enrollment Boundary Committee, that has spent hours working in conjunction with [RSP & Associates], a company that does the district’s demographic data.”
Battle High School will occupy an 85-acre site at 7575 St. Charles Rd., off I-70 near the eastern end of Columbia. The school is named for Muriel Battle, a longtime Columbia Public Schools administrator who fought against racial segregation.
Bonds funded the $120 million costs for building the new school. Because Columbia’s population grew 27 percent from 2000 to 2010, an increase of more than 20,000 people, RBHS and HHS are having problems with overcrowding, and the school board needs to keep pace with a fast-growing city.
The school board has “already been planning this school. They know it’s a lot of money, but they’re ready to spend it,” school board member Jonathan Sessions said. “Opening a new high school is not really optional [at this point]. … There just isn’t enough space” at HHS and RBHS.
While some teachers will be new to the district, most will come from the existing high schools or even from junior high schools.
“Basically, all teachers [at HHS and RBHS] would have the opportunity either to come over to the new school or stay where they are,” Sessions said.
After Battle High opens, the district will change the way the grades are divided among schools. The senior high schools will expand to hold grades 9-12. Meanwhile, the middle schools and the junior high schools will collapse into a single tier known as “intermediate schools” encompassing students in grades 6-8.
Even though it will be a while before the new school opens, some RBHS students are already singing the praises of Battle High.
“I like the new school,” junior Shaila Kathke said. “What it means is that Rock Bridge won’t be as crowded” as it would have been had Battle High not been built.
On the other side of town, Father Tolton High School is currently under construction in southern Columbia, off Highway 63. When construction is completed, the $14 million facility will hold classes in November as Columbia’s first Catholic high school. For now students attend classes at Columbia College.
This year, Tolton is open only to ninth and 10th-graders with an initial enrollment of about 60 students. However, it is scheduled to expand to hold 11th-graders in 2012, and 12th-graders in 2013.
“I think [the new Catholic high school] is a great idea,” sophomore Katie Wheeler said. “I have a lot of friends who [will] go to the new Catholic school. They think it’s very fun.”
Because Tolton High School is small compared to the public high schools, it is not likely to significantly affect attendance at Battle High. When complete, Tolton is expected to have an enrollment of 400 compared to Battle High’s 1,800.
By Isaac Pasley