Park City School District pauses realignment, but facility decisions remain
Amid dire situation, officials disagree about whether to ask for bond
February 21, 2017
The Park City Board of Education voted last week to press pause on the long-discussed grade realignment, but broader questions about addressing pressing facility needs remain.
In a 4-1 vote at a public meeting, the school board rescinded a previous decision in 2015 to realign grades for the 2017-2018 school year. Several members indicated that, while there remains broad support for realignment in the community, the majority of parents — and school staffers — preferred that the move be delayed until facilities are in place that would support the change.
Board member Julie Eihausen, though, voted against the measure, saying she was OK with delaying realignment but that she preferred to amend the date rather than rescind the entire 2015 decision, which was made when school leaders believed new facilities would be built by fall of this year.
Despite pausing realignment, the school board also voted to reaffirm their support for the concept, indicating that changing the grade structure will still happen in the future.
The discussion about when, exactly, the shift may take place comes as the district is also grappling with finding solutions to long-term facility needs. The additions of thriving programs such as preschool and all-day kindergarten has pushed the elementary schools to their capacity limits, and Treasure Mountain Junior High School, which has been plagued by problems since it was built, has reached the end of its useful life.
The district tried to shore up its facilities with a $56 million bond measure in 2015 — which would have also made room for realignment — but voters overwhelmingly rejected the effort. Now, nearly two years later, the district is uncertain how to fix the same problems they hoped the bond would solve.
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For instance, a tour of Treasure Mountain Junior High reveals a host of problems, from a faulty boiler system that hasn't been replaced since 1995 to crowded teaching areas that weren't designed to hold classes to a lunchroom that doesn't have enough seating to accommodate all students.
And at the elementary level, schools are bursting at the seams. Trailside Elementary School already uses portable classrooms, and McPolin Elementary School needs a minimum of two more teaching spaces just to operate next year. Principal Bob Edmiston is requesting four, whether they're portable classrooms, which district officials say would cost about $500,000, or permanent additions (roughly $1 million).
Overall, the situation has become dire, said Todd Hansen, the district's director of buildings and grounds.
"We're spending a lot of money trying to make things that weren't designed as classrooms and put kids in them," he said. "It's never ending, and it's happening everywhere. The money we're spending, I hate to say we're wasting it, but we need places to teach kids."
That's why the school board and district officials have been discussing the possibility in recent months of putting another bond measure on the ballot this fall that would pay for an expansion of Park City High School and a new elementary-level school for fifth- and sixth-graders. Those projects would pave the way for grade realignment and open space at the elementary schools by moving fifth grade students into a new school.
But at least one board member is skeptical whether voters would pony up this time to fund the effort. Many members of the community voted against the 2015 bond because they felt the district rushed the process through and didn't engage residents enough. School officials have spoken often since about how they've taken those criticisms to heart, but Andrew Caplan said the district may again be moving too quickly.
He said at last week's public meeting that the district needs to take a step back and work on an intensive long-range plan. That process should include both current facility needs and also things like considering purchasing land for schools in the future in case growth demands building a second high school, for instance, he said.
Caplan said such a plan would be impossible to complete within the next few months, the timeline necessary for the district to go to bond this fall. He added that he believes the community would reject a bond again because, while residents have been involved in the PCHS expansion process, outreach in other areas has been lacking.
To pass a bond, the district must engage residents at every step in a long-range planning process that could stretch into 2018, he said.
"We are not going to get a bond this fall," he said. "I don't think we will."
Other board members disagreed, though. Eihuasen and JJ Ehlers said the facility needs are too pressing to delay solutions, a sentiment they think the community understands. Both said residents they've talked with expect a bond to be on the ballot this fall requesting money for the PCHS expansion and a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders.
"I believe this community has gotten involved and is paying attention and is aware that this is a need that is very pressing," Eihausen said.
"We've been kicking this can down the road for I don't even know how long," she added later. "I'm sure people are getting annoyed with me because I'm getting less and less patient."
The district was scheduled to continue discussing facility needs at a public meeting Monday.