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BROKEN RECORD, BOND BONANZA: Price more than doubles for new CPS admin building

To keep costs down, "Call the General at General Steel," School Board member said in 2003 

COLUMBIA, 3/7/12  (Beat Byte) --  A $3.5 million expansion of Columbia Public Schools (CPS) administration building on Worley Street in 2003 became a $7.8 million expansion in 2011, illustrating a dilemma facing parents, voters, school children, teachers, and other CPS employees.
 
Spending on new district construction is skyrocketing, and now has officials wondering how to pay for massive infrastructure costs around the new Battle High School.    Likewise, bond debt is soaring at unprecedented rates, with property tax hikes close behind.  
 
Meanwhile, top district officials threaten cuts to areas that hurt most -- such as teaching staff -- if voters stop filling what has become an overflowing trough for mostly big development and allied interests. 
 
Roughly every two years since 1990, CPS seeks voter approval for bond debt, which will have tripled since 2004 if voters approve $50 million this year and $50 million again in 2014.   
 
"The school district’s total debt is projected to stand at $128.47 million by the end of the school year," the Columbia Tribune reported in 2004.   By 2014, that debt will total a whopping $325 million.   By 2020, if district debt plans remain, it will hit $445 million at an average rate of $20 million per year, followed by higher property taxes to pay it down. 
 
That's $4,450 for every man, woman, and child in a town with a population of 100,000. 
 
To keep debt down in 2003, then School Board member Elton Fay said he wanted the admin office expansion to "carry a reasonable price.  "We should look at a less expensive building than our traditional construction," Fay said.  "Paul Harvey says ‘Call the general at General Steel.’   I think a building of that type might allow us to cut costs and still get everything together in one spot."
 
Fay also cautioned against "expanding the administration building very much...I don’t think we ought to take up the athletic fields" of West Junior High School. 
 
Fat chance.  After ramming the big budget behemoth through over the summer of 2010, while most of the public was away, district officials spared no expense, more than doubling the price -- $7.8 million -- all while promised air conditioning projects "stalled."  
 
As it does every year, the Columbia Daily Tribune ran a glowing tribute to the 2004 bond debt package, a full-page "needs list" complete with quotes from beleaguered administrators, and throwaway lines from unpopular characters like school district critics Henry Lane and Arch Brooks.   
 
Cameras poised at Mill Creek Elementary school, reporters found students squeezed into storage closets; teachers holding classes behind a door labeled "Sprinkler Valve Control Room"; children struggling to listen "against the background rumble of a boiler." 

Next, the usual voter instruction guide:   "If voters approve a proposed $22.5 million bond issue, Mill Creek school, at 2200 W. Nifong Blvd., will get $1.7 million for renovations and construction of additional classrooms to help alleviate the space crunch," the Tribune -- an investor in business lobby REDI (featured above) -- pointed out. 
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