Amy Roberts: A more logical approach
Admittedly, I don’t put a great deal of effort into staying overly informed regarding the happenings within the Park City School District. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that there are so many other things I care about, and public education seems to already have a lot of local advocates. As long as the students have access to a high-quality education, are learning to become functioning adults and everyone is reasonably well behaved, I figure how it all comes together isn’t much of my business. I also tend to assume a good faith effort by educators, administrators, and the school board — no one signs on for any of that stuff because they don’t care. Both of my parents were public school teachers — I’ve seen the investment. When you don’t have kids and the people in charge of education seem to be doing a decent job, it feels OK to channel your focus elsewhere.
But this weekend an article in this newspaper made me reconsider my detached approach. The Park City School District released estimates for a number of much-needed capital projects, including multiple expansions of the high school which would allow 9th graders to learn in the building, new athletic facilities, and a new elementary school to replace Treasure Mountain Junior High, which by most accounts ought to be condemned.
If everything on the wish list was magically approved, the price tag comes in at roughly $200 million. Another, much less ambitious plan, is estimated to cost about $84 million and would include additions at the high school and Ecker Hill Middle School. Considering just five years ago voters rejected a $56 million bond that would have paid for an expansion at the high school, a new school for 5th and 6th graders, and other capital projects, it seems safe to suggest there’s been some inflation in the construction business. There are a few other less expensive options, but they all appear to be Band-Aids and it’s clear the district needs a tourniquet.
The timing of all this will be interesting. In 2015, no one was worried about a pandemic and the local economy was strong. It’s going to be a tough sell to ask voters for $200 million when a good portion of them are worried about their jobs. On the other hand, this might be the very best time to put the measure on the ballot given how many voters desperately want out of the homeschooling business and are willing to pay whatever it takes to send their kids away to learn.
No matter which plan is ultimately pursued, it’s not going to be cheap. Nor is it going to easy when you consider the pre-COVID traffic along Kearns Boulevard that already backs up to Highway 40 in the winter as skiers, students and workers inch their way into town. Add to that periodic lane closures and heavy construction equipment for several years and I suspect Uber helicopters are going to become very popular.
While it’s clear there are significant needs to accommodate growth and the school district has presented plans to meet them, it seems to me one obvious answer is missing from this multiple-choice scenario. Why aren’t we talking about a second high school in the 84098? All of the students (and parents) driving in from Jeremy Ranch, Pinebrook, Silver Summit, Trailside and the like would be better served by having a high school closer to their residences. A new high school would almost certainly be less expensive than retrofitting the existing campus, it would reduce the student population at the current high school allowing 9th graders to attend, money could be saved with shared athletic facilities, and as an added bonus — traffic along Kearns Boulevard would be significantly decreased. Instead of one high school barely accommodating roughly 1300 students, why not have two that accommodate 700 students and provide some elbow room?
In many towns, an additional high school is factored into the population growth. There’s an agreed upon tipping point and then workers begin shoveling dirt. Yet it doesn’t appear that option has been considered. Perhaps that’s due to a lack of imagination, but when you’re considering a $200 million project, it’s certainly not due to a lack of funds.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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It’s fitting in this fact-free world, writes columnist Tom Clyde, for Wasatch County officials to host a “grand opening” for a road that isn’t open yet.