South Summit will seek $87M bond for new high school
Sometimes a statistic tells the whole story.
After the South Summit Board of Education recently learned the projected cost for a new high school it wants to build jumped from $75 million to $87 million, the district conducted a survey of staff to ask what they thought of seeking a bond to pay for it.
The majority — 60 percent — responded the board should ask for more than $75 million to pay for a new comprehensive high school. But 70 percent thought that request would fail at the polls.
“Staff said, based on conditions, you need to bond, but (they) don’t think it would pass,” Superintendent Shad Sorenson said.
That’s the situation the school board found itself in Thursday night, when it voted 4-1 to put a bond measure on November’s ballot asking for the updated, $87 million total to build the 200,000-square-foot facility school officials have long told constituents was needed.
South Summit elementary and high schools are at enrollment capacity and the middle school is approaching it, according to district documents. And the district is expected to grow by 48 percent in less than a decade, from 1,500 students in 2013 to 2,500 students in 2028.
Now, the board’s job is to sell the bond to voters who rejected a similar measure in 2017, when the dollar figure was $58.65 million.
Board member Jim Snyder was the lone “Nay” vote Thursday. He advocated waiting to bond altogether, but when the vote passed said he would support the board’s efforts and work to get the bond approved.
The money would pay for a new high school and athletic facilities to alleviate overcrowding in the district’s schools. The school would be built on a parcel of land the district bought in 2017 on the west side of Kamas.
In addition to space for academics, extra-curricular activities and athletics, the new school would include safety improvements, adequate parking and safe pick-up and drop-off routes, according to district documents.
School officials have said the district does not have enough classrooms or restrooms, or space in hallways, cafeterias or designated open spaces.
The middle school was built for 200-300 students and has been in the 500 range for several years, according to the district. The gym and open spaces are often booked until 10 p.m.
“(There are) six second grades,” Sorensen said during a June presentation to the Summit County Council. “I don’t know where that’s going to be when they get to fourth grade.”
According to district documents, band, orchestra and choir students walk to the middle school for classes because the high school media center and music classrooms have been converted to regular classrooms. Science classes have limited lab time since those rooms are used as regular classrooms as well.
Though the total cost of the project has risen more than 15 percent, the tax impact to the owner of an average home within the district has actually gone down. The $75 million estimate was presented to the board last winter, and board members have spent time communicating it to citizens. The board also advertised that number in a mailer that was sent out to district residents.
At that time, the average primary residence in the district was worth $438,000, and the annual tax impact of a $75 million bond was estimated to be $376.
Fluctuations in the economic environment in the intervening six months, such as home values, interest rates and the cost of construction and materials, have pushed the estimated cost of the project to $87 million.
According to statistics from Summit County, the average fair market value of a home in the district has fallen to $423,000, and the projected impact on an average home for the $87 million bond, at $365, is lower than the first proposal.
At its first meeting after summer break, the board learned of the project’s cost increase, causing the officials to table a decision on the bond until Thursday’s meeting, less than a week before the state deadline to get it on the ballot.
The first time board member Steve Hardman made the motion for the full $87 million, it failed to garner a second. Board members Debra Blazzard, Dan Eckert and Snyder said they would not vote for anything above $75 million, with Snyder assuring the group such an effort would fail.
“At $87 million, I can’t come up with another answer besides no,” Snyder said. “It will not pass.”
But as discussions continued, the members slowly moved to yes.
About a dozen members of the public attended the meeting, joining the six or so consultants in the audience. One by one, audience members came to the microphone to encourage the board to “do the right thing” and support a bond for the full amount.
Several times, the board was told it was an opportunity for leadership.
Through the consensus appeared to be a $75 million bond would be an easier sell — the poll showed teachers were about evenly split on whether it would pass — that would leave the district in the precarious position of having asked for money to build a comprehensive high school while remaining millions of dollars short of being able to do so, and they opted to reject this path.
In 2017, the difference between passage and failure was less than 230 votes.
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A district spokesperson said six students were removed from an area in the school as police conducted a search.