Presented with sweeping expansion proposals that would reshape Park City’s schools, Board of Education aims to narrow in on options by mid-May
The Park City Board of Education on Tuesday is slated to hold its second discussion about sweeping school expansion proposals that offer residents the most concrete glimpse yet at what the future of education in the community could look like and mark a significant step in the school district’s long-running master planning efforts.
The proposals, drafted by MHTN Architects and first presented to the board last month, include expansion possibilities at nearly all of the district’s schools, but perhaps most significant are three scenarios that would dramatically reshape the Kearns Boulevard campus.
Each of the options for the campus, notably, call for an expansion of Park City High School, which would allow the district to accomplish a longtime goal of moving the ninth grade into the facility. The plans also include another project that district leaders — and not a few students and parents — have eyed for years: the demolition of the aging and overcrowded Treasure Mountain Junior High School. The building housing the Park City Learning Center, meanwhile, would also be torn down.
But beyond those important similarities, the proposals are radically different, some involving elements that would be pursued over the course of more than two decades rather than in the next few years, according to Todd Hauber, the district’s business administrator.
The first, Option A, calls for an addition to replace the current wings on the southern end of the high school, as well as expansions to be built on the northeastern portion of the facility. McPolin Elementary School would be demolished and replaced with athletic fields, with a new elementary school rising up near the current site of Treasure Mountain Junior High.
In Option B, McPolin would remain where it is but be expanded to the south. Likewise, the high school’s southern wings would be preserved, with additions to the northeast requiring the drastic step of relocating the Eccles Center. Baseball, softball and soccer fields would be constructed where Treasure Mountain stands.
The high school would be replaced entirely in Option C, with a rendering showing a school essentially stretching from Dozier Field to McPolin, which itself would be expanded to the east. Treasure Mountain would be replaced by the athletic fields.
The proposals, Hauber said, are aimed at ensuring the campus is functional well into the future.
“It’s just trying to keep an eye to the future so we don’t build something today that 10 years from now we have to say, ‘Well, now it’s in the wrong place. It’s in the way of trying to best utilize the campus,” he said.
Another consideration that shaped the proposals is the traffic impact on Kearns Boulevard, a topic that has long been central to any discussion about changes to the campus. The road, one of two entry points to Park City, is the site of frequent rush-hour traffic jams, especially in the winter months as resort-bound drivers jostle with students attempting to reach class and others making their daily commutes.
“Taking into account the transit and traffic patterns that are happening along Kearns, it was becoming more and more apparent to us that the Kearns Campus as a whole would have to be redesigned and some of the traffic load would probably have to come off of Kearns and into some internal circulation pattern,” Hauber said. “We had to look hard at what the configuration of the campus was.”
While many of the most radical changes presented in the proposals would occur on the Kearns campus, the district’s other facilities could also see major changes.
At Ecker Hill Middle School, for instance, additions would be required to accommodate eighth-graders being shifted into the school in accordance with a grade realignment plan the board approved in December. Both designs offered for Ecker Hill include a remodel of parts of the existing facility, though they differ regarding the footprint of the expansions.
There are also options to expand each of the other three elementary schools, meant to provide more space for the district’s popular pre-kindergarten offerings that have exacerbated overcrowding concerns at the current buildings. The proposals also offer the possibility of facilities for increased services like mental health or day care programs at some of the elementary schools.
The designs created by the architecture firm are based on educational priorities the district identified earlier in the master planning process. Taken as a whole, they are expansive. But Hauber said the board has the latitude to mix, match and refine the options as needed to craft a plan it believes the community would support.
Any combination the elected officials choose seems likely to come with a significant price tag, though cost details have not yet been attached to any of the proposals. Hauber said the board hoped to have that information by Tuesday’s meeting.
“(These) aren’t locked in, so to speak,” he said. “If we get feedback that says, ‘Hey, wait, what about fill in the blank,’ there’s still an opportunity to go back and say, ‘You know, you’re right. That cost was probably too high. … Can we get the cost down so we have an affordable project moving forward, not just pie-in-the-sky type of ideas.’”
It remains to be seen whether the district will seek a bond measure to fund the projects. A previous master planning effort in 2014 and 2015 proved controversial within the community, ultimately collapsing when voters rejected a $56 million bond that would have paid for an expansion of PCHS and a new fifth- and sixth-grade school at the Ecker Hill campus, among other improvements.
Cognizant of that defeat, the district began the current master planning effort seeking community buy-in, resulting in a methodical timeline that has stretched since the fall of 2018.
If the board attempts to place a bond measure on the November ballot, it would face a mid-August deadline to finalize the details. Hauber, however, said the board is aiming to hone in on the primary elements of a plan — or plans — the community can weigh in on as early as next month, allowing the district to shift its focus to the significant outreach efforts that would likely be required to garner broad backing from residents.
Should a bond measure be successful this fall, construction on a first phase of projects could begin next spring, Hauber said.
“We don’t want to delay this any longer than we already have,” he said. “We would really like to get those ninth-graders into that full high school experience and things like that.”
Despite the district’s desire to see the projects come to fruition after more than a half-decade of master planning discussions in some form, another potential roadblock has unexpectedly emerged in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is unclear how the economic turbulence the coronavirus has wrought will affect the master planning effort, but the district’s coffers, like that of other local governments, will not emerge unscathed. Property tax revenues could take a hit in the long-term, while the pot of money the state uses to fund schools via income taxes will also be affected as thousands of Utahns are laid off or furloughed as a result of the virus.
Beyond that, Hauber acknowledged that getting voters to support a costly bond measure, a formidable task under any circumstance, would be more challenging than it appeared a few months ago in the wake of the economic uncertainty both nationally and at the local level. In Park City, the tourism-based economy has ground to a standstill as many businesses were ordered to temporarily close, in turn leaving many residents out of work.
The proposals can be viewed by going to go.boarddocs.com/ut/pcsd/Board.nsf/public and navigating to the March 31 meeting. The elected officials are not expected to select any of the proposals Tuesday, though Hauber said they could whittle down the options.
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“I think one of the things that really, really, really scares … us is knowing that there are go-to docs that they can send out saying a student or a teacher or a staff member died,” said union co-president Julie Hooker.