At meeting, Park City School District encouraged to separate wants from needs
The Park City School District’s third and final meeting to gather public input on a controversial master planning project centered on one important question.
What elements of the plan are needs, and which are simply wants?
Few who spoke at the meeting questioned whether controversial components of the plan, such as building a new athletic field house, would be beneficial to the district — though some quibbled over details, such as the location of the field house and whether relocating Dozier Field is necessary — but many wondered whether those elements justify the price tags they might come with.
The total cost of the plan as it has been proposed could climb into the high eight figures, which would require taxpayers to foot a hefty bill through a bond that would be up for a vote in November.
The proposal comprises several large projects, which include: building a wing onto Park City High School, constructing a new school for fifth and sixth grades, tearing down Treasure Mountain Junior High, moving Dozier Field to where the junior high currently sits and building an adjacent athletic field house. The district’s master planning committee could significantly alter the plan, however, before it makes a recommendation to the Board of Education August 11.
The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the committee’s recommendation the following week.
One resident who felt the district’s proposal represented a "wish list" summed up the situation like this: "I want to see Park City have absolutely the best education in the country. I don’t see how a field house is going to help."
Another resident, who said he’d served on a school board in another state, also used the term "wish list" to refer to the plan.
"While there is nothing here that is stupid, there is more on the want list than the need list," he said. "We have to figure out where to draw the line."
But others spoke up in favor of elements such as the field house, which among other features could include a new basketball gym and locker rooms. One man, who said his daughters play on the girls’ lacrosse team, said the team is often forced to practice outside in the winter. A field house would give them a better place to practice when temperatures are frigid.
He responded to another resident who had said the fact both the boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams have won state championships proves an indoor facility isn’t necessary for them to be successful.
"The reason we have champions is they are tougher than I am, and they deserve better," he said.
Rory Murphy, co-chair of the master planning committee, said after the meeting in an interview with The Park Record that the division between wants and needs is becoming more obvious to the committee, though even the committee’s members have differences of opinion.
"There are certain things that are going to be really difficult to put off for any length of time — for example, the expansion of the high school," he said. "There are other items that may be very important to some people but less important to others. It’s becoming more clear what those answers are."
That detailed information on the potential costs of the plan is not available has muddied the process. One resident at the meeting expressed frustration that the district could go for a bond even though it doesn’t have construction drawings or bids in place.
Murphy told The Park Record that cost is the most important element that has yet to be determined. While the district has rough estimates, he acknowledged "there’s a gap" between the estimates and providing the public with exact figures.
Murphy, however, deflected criticism pointed at the district for potentially asking the public to support a bond without knowing the exact cost. He said that’s far from ideal, but in this case may be necessary to move forward with plans for all-day kindergarten and grade realignment, which the district views as essential to providing students with the best possible education.
The committee’s recommendation to the Board of Education will likely come with caveats acknowledging the uncertainty of the cost, he added.
"That’s going to be a decision the school board is going to have to make," Murphy said. "Do they want to wait another bond cycle and get this thing down to the gnat’s eye, or do they want to go ahead and move forward with the information we have?"
A Park City High School senior facing 18 criminal charges admitted to releasing pepper spray in the school’s lecture hall last month to prevent a conservative school club from hosting an event.