Park City braces for the next influx of students |

Park City braces for the next influx of students

The kids are back in town

Luz Reyes runs off the school for her second day of classes as a sixth grader at Ecker Hill Middle School Friday morning, August 25, 2017. Ecker Hill was one of four schools to begin classes on Thursday, August 24th. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)

Summit County is a very desirable place to live. The outdoor lifestyle, clean air, sports, economy and good schools attract new families every day. But growth comes with the challenge of accommodating more people and planning ahead for what we surely know is headed our way. Our roads are busy, our water sources finite, and some of our classrooms are bursting at the seams. And there are more kids coming.

But you just can’t order up a new school and have it delivered. It takes time to come up with a plan, gather support and let the people decide what they want, and what they’re willing to spend on the education of their children. If they approve the spending, then there’s land to be purchased, buildings to be built, books and desks and chairs to buy, and teachers to hire to fill these classrooms. It’s a tough job planning for change, and the future, in a dynamic community.

Trailside Elementary’s Debbie Moser distributes fresh, red delicious apples to each desk in her 5th grade classroom as she prepares for the first day of school Tuesday morning, August 22, 2017. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)

The Park City School District found out the hard way that there are limits to what citizens are willing to support, and that the goal and plan needs to be clearly defined. In November of 2015, a $56 million school bond was defeated, that would have expanded the Park City High School and gym, built a new school for fifth and sixth graders, renovate the McPolin Elementary, and demolish Treasure Mountain Junior High.

Reasons for the defeat ranged from the bond being rushed, opposition to athletic changes, and the plan not being well defined. Without the funding, the capacity and needs haven’t gone away, however, and just this summer another bond was proposed, only to be cancelled, to continue refining their strategic plan, focus on facility needs and school capacity. Meanwhile, the kids keep coming.

Over the mountain in the Kamas Valley, it’s much the same situation. The South Summit School District oversees an elementary, middle and high school, as well as an aquatic center, bus barn and football field. It all barely fits on 40 acres. High schools alone usually take up that much room. It’s tight quarters on campus, and there’s no more room to expand.

Out 10 years we might have another 900 students, just looking at known projects.”

Growth is expected to hit the Kamas Valley hard in the next decade, a 33 percent increase projected in the next 5 years, which equates to about 500 students. Last school year saw a nearly 4 percent increase in the number of students. According to South Summit School District Superintendent Shad Sorenson adds, “Out 10 years we might have another 900 students, just looking at known projects.”

The planning process has been almost three years in the making. After hiring a consultant to project the increases based on approved developments, they appointed a master planning committee to study, and make, a recommendation to the school board. The board voted to place a bond on the ballot this November, for $58.65 million. If the bond passes they will use those proceeds, plus savings in their capital fund, to build a new high school on 150 acres west of town (already purchased for $2 million), and realign and renovate the other schools and facilities.

“Not a rock was left unturned,” says Sorenson. “The number one thing we are focused on is growth. We are near capacity.” Without the bond proceeds he says they will try to put in more portable classrooms, and worst case, possibly, go to a year-round school schedule. Taxes are projected to increase around $350 per year on a home valued at $310,000. The last bond was issued in 1988.

Kip Bigelow is the business administrator for the SSSD, and says the high school will cost around $57 million, with another $30 million of existing school renovations over the next decade. Fortunately, there’s about $15 million in their reserve, capital fund. If the bond passes, high school construction would start in the spring of 2018, and be completed in the fall of 2020.

Over 80 percent of a recent survey (with 41 respondents) in the District support the new high school, there are some concerns about the new athletic fields. “The stadium is already far superior to what most schools have and building another just doesn’t make sense at all,” said one. “We need to get our elementary children reading instead,” said another. But Suni Woolstenhulme, an SSSD school board member, says, “The new high school makes the most sense, and realigning the grades. It’s a long-term solution, with the growth that will come.”

One especially high growth area is the approved Silver Creek Village at the junction of I80 and US40. Nearly 1,300 homes will be built in the near future, and the estimated 389 students will all be in the South Summit District. This fall, in response to this imminent influx of students, the Silver Summit Academy was opened there with 40 elementary (K-5) and 75 secondary (6-12) students, and Sorenson thinks it’s the wave of the future.

Described as an alternative, blended-learning school, it has been designed with plenty of group space, and individualized attention, with a STEAM emphasis. They also can attend more traditional classes at the campus in Kamas as well. “Lots of home school students are getting access to what they need, too,” he says, “and this supports them and gives them access to viable curricula. We didn’t want to just build a brick-and-mortar school.”

In the next decade, Sorenson foresees two more neighborhoods, elementary schools in both Francis and Oakley too. Planning ahead is essential, and one thing is certain, however; the kids are coming, and they need a place to go to school.