Enrollment growing, South Summit could build new schools
The South Summit School District is expecting to rapidly outgrow its facilities in the coming decade, sparking serious discussions about building new schools or expanding the current ones.
A recently completed projection of expected enrollment numbers over the next decade paints the picture of a district bursting at the seams. All three schools are already nearing capacity. But according to Kip Bigelow, the district’s business administrator, the analysis showed that anywhere from 740 to 900 new students are likely coming by 2026 — figures that take into account only housing developments that have already been approved.
If the district takes no action, that would put South Summit High School well beyond its capacity — 150 percent — with the middle and elementary schools facing similar pressures.
“What it tells us,” Bigelow said, “is we’re in need of either some additions onto buildings or a new building.”
The district is forming a committee to delve into possible plans for expansion, Bigelow said. The committee, comprising community members, district personnel and government officials, will begin meeting in the coming weeks and will direct an architectural firm, Naylor Wentworth Lund Architects, in finding the best solution to handle the growth.
Bigelow is hopeful the committee can agree on a plan by the end of December. The district would then hold public hearings to cement support from residents and determine how to pay for the projects.
“There will be many different scenarios laid out, and we’ll start picking them apart until we come down to a consensus of what we feel is necessary,” he said.
The district currently has about $14-15 million in a building reserve fund set aside for capital projects. But any plan that includes new buildings, Bigelow said, would likely require funding from a public bond. Additionally, an analysis the architecture firm performed on the existing schools discovered about $27 million worth of repairs that need to be completed in the coming years.
Bigelow said those repairs will likely be folded into the larger project.
The location of the expected enrollment growth further complicates matters. The analysis showed that the planned Silver Creek Village housing development southeast of the Interstate 80/U.S. 40 interchange is slated to bring in about 400 students — down from earlier district projections of up to 750 — who would be a nearly 20-minute drive from South Summit schools, all located in Kamas.
While the committee and ultimately the Board of Education will have the final say, Bigelow said it was very likely that the district will have to build at least an elementary school in the Silver Creek area to accommodate those students.
“That will be looked at very hard, what we do to provide for the students in that area,” he said, adding that Francis and the southern end of the Kamas Valley are the other areas expected to see rapid growth.
With so much growth coming so quickly, it’s possible the committee will settle on a plan that includes multiple projects — a new school as well as a large addition to one of the current ones, for instance. Bigelow added that adding a new facility could necessitate reconfiguring which grades are in each school.
Regardless, the simple reality is that the district has to do something — and fast.
“When your existing buildings are already at capacity, you’ve got to do something for your existing campus as it is now, plus that additional growth,” he said.
While a bond campaign seems likely, the district’s master-planning process will not be as broad as the one undertaken by the Park City School District last fall. A $56 million PCSD bond included money for things such as improvements to athletic facilities and ultimately failed. Projects like those aren’t on South Summit’s radar, Bigelow said.
“I think everything will be based around the school itself,” he said. “It’ll be just those things associated with the education process.”
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