Special Membership Meeting

February 19, 2020

CAS President John Besser convened the special membership meeting at 6:05 p.m. The meeting was held to discuss a proposal by the Board of Directors to donate $30,000 in CAS funds for construction of the Council House facility at the new Boone County Nature School. After the membership meeting was adjourned at 7 p.m., Bill Palmer presented a program on Magee Marsh, a nature preserve and premier birding destination located in Ohio on the south shore of Lake Erie.

An estimated 50 members and guests were present for all or part of the meeting and program.

John B introduced Mike Szydlowski, science coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, who presented information about the Boone County Nature School project and the Council House facility and answered questions about the project.

Mike S talked about the history of the project, which grew out of an earlier proposal for a nature school at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. Missouri Department of Conservation Director Sara Parker Pauley and CPS Superintendent Dr. Peter Stiepleman agreed to revisit and revise the proposal. The groundbreaking for the project will be held March 31, 2020, at the site, which is located south of Columbia and west of Highway 63 on land donated to MDC by the Waters-Russell family.

Mike said that the vision for the Nature School program changed from offering just 100 fifth graders the opportunity to study at the school for a year, to providing a seven-day experience for every fifth grader in Boone County. He described the opportunities students will have at the Nature School for forest, aquatic, prairie and personal exploration; to participate in citizen science projects; and to create service learning projects. The curriculum will be modeled in part on the Wolf School (Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility), a collaborative project between the Springfield, Mo., Public Schools and Bass Pro.

He described the Council House, noting that the facility will be similar to one used by CPS students and staff during the annual fifth-grade field trip to the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont. The facility will have stadium seating for 130-140 students and serve as a hub for the program, the communications center, and a gathering place. It’s a place kids remember, he said.

Responding to member questions, Mike said—

  • The Nature School will have two staff members, who will work with the classroom teachers who accompany their students.
  • The total budget for the project is $4.25 M; MDC has committed $1 M to the project; CPS has committed $2 M; and the balance is being raised from individual donors; 82 percent of the total funds needed have been committed.
  • The Nature School building will have four classrooms and a lab space.
  • Students will be bused to their regular schools first and then transported to the Nature School.
  • The Council House will be constructed in the woods near the Nature School. The building materials will likely be cedar or treated lumber. The facility will be used year-round, unless weather conditions are dangerous. The students will be outside a lot, and the school will have outdoor gear on hand if needed.
  • Six of the seven days students spend at the Nature School will be focused on the outdoors and nature; one day will focus on the history and culture of the area.
  • The Council House will be handicapped accessible, likely constructed with a dirt floor, and possibly have electricity. Most of $30,000 cost for the structure will be for labor.
  • The Council House will be named for Columbia Audubon.

Other questions asked by members included—

  • Can Audubon afford to do work at Wild Haven Nature Sanctuary—such as rebuilding the shelter and bridges—and do this? John B noted that CAS still has insurance money for a tractor stolen from Wild Haven several years ago, which could be used for those projects.
  • What funds does CAS have? Board Member Bill Mees cited a 2012 CAS treasurer’s report that showed a balance of $58,927, compared to the current report showing a balance of $288,742. The substantial increase was due to a $160,000 estate gift received in 2012, which has appreciated to $206,107. Board Member Eric Reuter noted that the funds are invested, and CAS doesn’t want to spend the principal.
  • CAS’ purpose is not to accumulate money, right? John B said that’s one reason the board feels comfortable spending the funds on an appropriate project.
  • Has CAS invited other organizations to submit proposals for these funds? John B said that CAS has not put out a request for proposals to other organizations.
  • Has CAS considered making a donation for upkeep costs? Mike S responded that maintenance of the facilities will be provided by MDC and CPS.

Other comments from members included–

  • A year ago, this project wasn’t even on the radar. We have a one-time opportunity to do something significant.
  • This is a good way to impact youth in Boone County, and not just CPS students.
  • We would have an extended impact on kids; this is an ongoing, rejuvenating use of the funds.
  • It’s not just the students who will be learning, it’s their teachers, too.
  • I don’t think the donor would want us to keep the funds forever and not do anything with them.

Board Member Eric Reuter, who wrote the position paper in opposition to the proposal, commented that he raised objections to make sure we’re making a good decision, not because he opposes nature education or the Nature School. He said that during his association with CAS, the organization has not had a strategic discussion about how to spend our funds or considered other potential projects that could be funded. He noted that the CAS membership area includes six counties, and rural school district students in five of them won’t have a chance to attend the Nature School. He questioned whether this is the best use of the funds, considering all other potential projects.

Member Edge Wade commented that CAS will be able to support additional projects, such as a Motus wildlife tracking tower for research. She urged the board to maintain better communication with members and provide monthly budget reports.

Members were invited to cast a paper ballot for or against the CAS donation for the Nature School project. John B noted that the vote is advisory and that the CAS bylaws require the board to make the final decision about the donation. He announced the results of the vote at the conclusion of the program:  32 members voted; 27 were in favor of the donation, and 5 were opposed.