The Park City School District is on track for a potential $100M-plus bond this fall
Major upgrades would realign grades, augment preschool program
The Park City School District is on track to ask residents this fall for $100 million or more to pay for a massive facilities upgrade to accomplish what the Board of Education says are clear-cut community priorities.
The primary goals are to integrate ninth grade into the high school, move eighth grade into Ecker Hill Middle School and expand elementary schools to augment preschool and community learning programs.
The board has not committed to requesting a bond, though it has indicated it will do so. And because the board may pursue various funding options, the amount on the ballot might be different than the total project cost.
Improving its facilities has been a public priority for the district since at least 2014, and the most recent master planning process produced a 233-page document last spring filled with multiple options and various combinations of new buildings and expansions for officials to consider.
The price reached north of $200 million for the most comprehensive option, and the board is hoping to hear from community members about which options best serve the district while it is selecting which plans to pursue.
Todd Hauber, the district’s business administrator, anticipated the board will shortly hire a firm to conduct a public outreach campaign, the sort of thing that, if it didn’t take place during a pandemic, would feature town halls with renderings of the options on easels and community members walking amid the presentations and offering feedback.
He estimated a virtual version would kick off around early April and that the board would decide which options to pursue ahead of an August deadline to place a bond on November’s ballot.
Last month, the Board of Education contracted with a project management firm that will help the board choose which options to pursue and manage the contractors during the process, which will likely include a public relations firm to handle community outreach and the subcontractors that will perform the construction work.
Hauber estimated the total project would cost around $120 million or more if the board opts to pursue improvements to multiple facilities to realign the grades and provide additional programming.
Hauber indicated the projects aimed at aligning older grades would likely occur simultaneously, while the expansion of pre-school and community learning centers at elementary schools could be pursued on a somewhat independent timeline.
One option encompassing the elementary school additions that would expand pre-school programming and provide space for community services like health clinics or daycare, has an estimated $38 million price tag, while the projects at the secondary schools could be much costlier.
There are a handful of ways the district could pay for these projects.
Officials could raise the money by increasing property taxes, which they’ve indicated is an unlikely outcome and an inequitable strategy. Districts typically issue debt to build projects on this scale, both for practicality’s sake, as they cost so much money, but also so that future users will share in the cost burden when the debt is paid back in subsequent years.
The most likely outcome, officials have indicated, is that there will be a measure on November’s ballot asking voters to approve debt in the form of general obligation bonds.
The board recently granted itself the authority to issue another form of debt — so-called “revenue lease bonds” — that would not require voter approval.
Previous Board President Andrew Caplan said last fall that the board would use that financial instrument for less costly projects that might also benefit from the shorter turnaround time to issue revenue lease bonds and receive the money.
A general obligation bond, which would have lower interest rates and is commonly used for large-scale building projects, must be placed on the ballot by the board by an August deadline, voted on in November, and the earliest the bonds could be issued is next February, Hauber indicated.
Even if the board split the projects, and opted for non-voter supported bonds for the elementary projects and a voter-approved, larger bond for the secondary school projects, Hauber said the projects would still have to be considered in relation to one another.
The district would have to coordinate its debt payments as well as the actual construction work.
“The full financial package has to make sense in concert. You can’t do elementary schools and pretend you’re not doing the high school,” he said.
Another factor for officials to consider, Hauber said, is that interest rates have been rising in recent months after a period of record lows. Whereas in September, Hauber indicated the difference in interest rates between the two bond types would be relatively inconsequential, that has changed and may incentivize combining all projects into one large bond proposal this fall.
“If we can get a … different debt structure at a lower interest rate, it would make more sense to pull them all in,” he said. “Got to know what our scope of project and cost is so we can then match up financing.”
Other financing possibilities include a bank loan or a public-private partnership, in which the district would work with a source like a nonprofit.
The last time the district asked voters for money for facilities improvements was in 2015, when a measure to raise $56 million failed by a 60% to 40% margin at the polls. The proposed improvements then included expanding the high school and building another school for fifth- and sixth-graders.
A citizen group that formed to oppose the measure at the time called the bond effort rushed, the plans half-baked and some of the proposed facilities unnecessary.
One of the chief concerns from the last attempt, moving Dozier Field, would not be included in these proposals, according to minutes from master planning meetings last year.
Hauber indicated the next step would be for the board to winnow the roughly three options for the high school, two options for the middle school and various options for the elementary schools into one final project, with a distinct price tag.
“We’ve got to boil that down and say, OK, this is the path for the high school, this is the path for the middle school, this is elementary,” Hauber said.
After failing at the polls the last go-around, officials have indicated it will be imperative to get community buy-in for this effort.
The earliest construction could begin would be spring of 2022, Hauber indicated.
The project management firm, Salt Lake City-based MACO Systems, is slated to receive $100,000 initially, which would be included in a final fee of 2.15% of the project’s hard costs, according to a contract the board approved in January. If the board builds a $100 million option, for instance, the firm would earn $2.15 million.
The district paid Salt Lake City-based MHTN Architects about $1.5 million, Hauber said, for that firm’s yearlong study of the district’s facilities and to create improvement options.
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