South Summit High School bond: Proponents hope information campaign for $87M bond can reverse 2017 rejection
As ballots arrive in mailboxes across Summit County, one of the biggest questions facing some East Side residents is whether to borrow money to build a new South Summit High School.
Voters are being asked to support an $87 million bond to build a new, 215,000-square-foot high school and athletic facilities on a parcel of land on the west side of Kamas.
The impact on the average primary residence – valued at $423,000 – would be $358 annually, or $651 on a secondary residence or business, according to district documents.
The schools are “bulging at the seams” according to South Summit High School Principal Wade Woolstenhulme, and the district is anticipated to add 800 students by 2028, pushing total enrollment to 2,500.
Detractors don’t deny the demographic pressures on the district, but wonder whether there are cheaper options like expanding the current high school or building a new elementary school. Some also question why the district needs new athletic facilities, especially as the high school has what Woolstenhulme calls a “premier” football stadium.
The district’s superintendent, Shad Sorenson, said the Board of Education has examined multiple options — including adding wings to the current high school and building new elementary schools — and determined building a new high school to be the most efficient use of taxpayer money.
The cost breakdown provided by the project’s architects show the building’s cost at about $62 million and the athletic fields at around $8 million. The $87 million total budget includes a 15% estimate for “soft costs.”
At the meeting when the board approved the bond measure, members said the benefits of the new athletic facilities would outweigh the relatively smaller cost to the public, estimating the cost at $5 per month.
Sorenson pointed to the importance of getting information out to the public, especially after a similar effort failed in 2017.
“128 votes would have made the difference (in 2017),” he said. “Our goal is that nobody would need to vote uninformed this year.”
The district has sent out several mailers, produced multiple short explanatory videos, presented to various municipal governments and set up a website with links to information about the bond.
Supporters of the measure have spoken of the increased efforts to get information to the community.
“The school district has been much more transparent and they’ve published many more facts,” said Doug Evans, a volunteer with the Friends of South Summit Schools, which supports the bond measure. “People are knocking on doors, putting out signs. … When people have questions we just try to help them out.”
Evans said when he’s out canvassing, he points out the tax impact estimates are higher than most people will experience, as the mean home price in the district, $423,000, includes many more expensive homes in areas like Silver Creek and Promontory.
According to a mailer the district sent to residents, 74% of the cost will fall on businesses and non-primary residences. The anticipated increase in taxes per $100,000 of assessed value is $85 annually.
A website set up to oppose the measure suggests there are cheaper alternatives, like adding a new wing to the high school — which was contemplated in the school’s original design — or building a smaller elementary school.
Sorenson said the district’s growth would probably necessitate adding two wings to the school, and said renovations would be required as the infrastructure — like cafeterias, parking and open space — wasn’t built to support that number of students.
The superintendent also said costs of those additions wouldn’t be contained in just building the new wings. Such a project would likely require moving a transportation garage and closing a road that runs between the high school and its parking lot, something he said Kamas city councilors have not supported.
And though building a new elementary school might help ease the current crunch, it would not address long-term capacity issues. Such a project would cost tens of millions of dollars.
The high school’s capacity is 480 students and its enrollment is 470 this year, according to the district. The new high school would have 41 classrooms, up from 23, and would support 750 students. It would also include many technological advances, dedicated spaces for career and technology education, a college-prep center, shop, labs and performing arts spaces.
High school choir and band classes are taught at the middle school after their room at the high school was converted to another use, and the lab is only available sporadically.
If the bond passes, the current high school would be converted to a junior high, alleviating pressure on the parking situation, as students would no longer drive to the school.
Mail-in ballots have a postmark deadline of Nov. 4 but they also may be submitted in a drop-off box by 8 p.m., Nov. 5.
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861 acres have been placed under a conservation easement, protecting the land from development in perpetuity.