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Price tags detailed for ambitious plans to reshape Park City School District facilities

Cost information tied to a number of ambitious proposals the Park City School District is pursuing to update its facilities was released publicly for the first time Tuesday.
Courtesy of MHTN Architects

Park City’s schools could look radically different 10 years from now. But the elected officials exploring a range of ambitious ideas to update facilities, and the taxpayers who would foot the bill, recently got their first concrete look at one important consideration: A large-scale transformation wouldn’t come cheap.

On Tuesday, the price tags attached to several capital projects the Park City School District is considering as part of its master planning efforts were released publicly for the first time, revealing the cost of turning long-desired concepts like moving the ninth grade into Park City High School into reality.

The dollar figures presented to the Park City Board of Education varied widely based on the scope of the projects, with reshaping the Kearns Boulevard campus at the top end of the spectrum.

The most costly of the possibilities for the campus detailed in a presentation prepared by MHTN Architects in anticipation of Tuesday’s meeting would top $200 million on its own. It includes multiple expansions to Park City High School; new athletic facilities east of the building near the current footprint of McPolin Elementary School, which would be torn down; and a new elementary school that would replace the aging Treasure Mountain Junior High. The work would be completed in phases over the course of several years.

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Less ambitious is a plan that calls for significant additions at both PCHS and Ecker Hill Middle School — which would need to be expanded to accommodate eighth-graders if Treasure Mountain Junior High is torn down — at a price of $84 million.

The cheapest among the various options presented to the school board would allow ninth-graders to move into PCHS without major work to the building by increasing the utilization of the current space under what’s referred to as a “university model.” That would cost $7 million and involve eighth-graders remaining at Treasure Mountain Junior High.

Expansions at the district’s four elementary schools for pre-kindergarten programs and other student offerings, meanwhile, would total nearly $38 million and could be pursued on their own or alongside improvements to the secondary schools.

The elected officials have the ability to mix and match elements of the proposals to create a final option they believe would both fulfill the district’s long-term academic objectives and earn support in the community. They hope to settle on a plan shortly, with an eye toward getting a project off the ground as soon as possible, given that discussions about crafting a long-term blueprint for the district’s facilities have been ongoing, in one form or another, since 2014 without resolution. The current master planning process began in 2018.

Whatever plan the school board ultimately selects, district officials have signaled they may pursue it in phases, tackling the work over the course of 10 or 15 years. Such a strategy would provide for more financial flexibility, allowing the district to pay for individual elements along the way rather than needing to secure a bulk of the funding all at once, as it would through a general obligation bond requiring voter approval.

One option the school board is considering is forming a building authority, similar to the ones that both the Park City and Summit County governments utilize. That would enable the district to leverage property tax revenues to secure financing without undertaking the process of putting a bond measure on the ballot in November. Any property tax increases needed to pay down the debt would go through a truth-in-taxation process.

“Given the economic challenges related to COVID-19, we do not want to delay these needed projects because this November may be too early and waiting until the following November may be too late,” said Todd Hauber, the district’s business administrator, in an email to The Park Record.

Andrew Caplan, president of the Board of Education, said that consideration has become more important in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even in a strong economic climate, a successful bond measure would be far from a sure thing. In 2015, at the end of a prior round of master planning talks, voters rejected a $56 million proposal that would have paid for an expansion of PCHS, a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders and other capital projects, for instance.

But the prospect of getting a bond measure passed this fall to fund the ambitious proposals currently on the table has become even more fraught as the pandemic has thrust the local economy into a sudden and significant downturn.

“Given the context of the economic situation in our community, it’s going to be unlikely that we would do a massive bond this fall,” Caplan said during Tuesday’s meeting. “But I think having the flexibility to issue bonds when needed would be pretty powerful for us.”

Other possibilities under consideration to pay for the projects include public-private partnerships and using the district’s capital reserves.

The presentation delivered to the school board Tuesday can be viewed by going to go.boarddocs.com/ut/pcsd/Board.nsf/public and navigating to the May 19 meeting agenda.


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