Record editorial: For now, school upgrades should stick to the essentials
The Park City Board of Education appears likely to put a bond measure on the ballot in November, asking taxpayers to pony up for a massive overhaul of the district’s schools. If voters were to say yes, it would be the culmination of the wide-ranging master-planning discussions that have continued, in one form or another, since 2014.
Given how long the district has been mired in talks about facilities upgrades, a resolution would be welcome. It would allow school officials — and the community — to achieve long-desired goals like grade realignment and retiring Treasure Mountain Junior High, whose aging infrastructure and crowded hallways have long been a bane for students, teachers and parents.
But the devil, as always, is in the details. And in this case, one detail is especially pertinent. According to an estimate provided to the district last week, the price tag for the sum of the projects the board is contemplating comes in at approximately $150 million. Put another way, that’s nearly three times the dollar figure of the $56 million school bond measure voters rejected in 2015.
The scope of the work is extensive: expanding Park City High School to accommodate the ninth grade, expanding Ecker Hill Middle School to fit the eighth grade and building additions to all four elementary schools for pre-kindergarten programs and other services. All are worthy projects, and were borne of community discussions aimed at determining what kind of educational experience we want the school district to provide for our children in the coming decade and beyond.
The board has not indicated whether it would seek all the funding in a bond measure this fall, and it could opt to also utilize other funding sources that are not subject to voter approval.
But taxpayers, one way or another, would foot the bill, and residents may find a total dollar figure surpassing $150 million difficult to stomach. That would likely be true during normal times, and the continuing economic concerns stemming from the pandemic only exacerbate the challenge awaiting the district to get community buy-in for a plan.
For that reason, the elected officials should strongly consider paring the work down to the essentials — the expansions of PCHS and Ecker Hill to allow for grade realignment — and leaving the elementary school improvements for some point in the future. A recent analysis anticipates that the district’s kindergarten-through-fifth grade student population will decline by 3.6% over the next few years, which would ease, if only slightly, the space constraints that have made the elementary school expansions a priority. Putting them on the backburner for a while is a reasonable course of action.
The PCHS and Ecker Hill projects alone represent an ambitious proposal, coming in at approximately $105 million, according to the estimate. But the sticker shock would not be quite as jarring, especially when comparing the tax impact on property owners to that of other bond measures voters have supported in recent years, such as for City Hall’s acquisition of the Treasure land in Old Town.
Park City is passionate about education, and residents are willing to open their wallets to support it when they are convinced officials have done the work to create a common-sense proposal. After seven years and countless meetings exploring facilities upgrades, it’s hard to argue school officials haven’t put in the work. Now, it’s up to the school board to put forth a plan that even taxpayers who haven’t followed the process every step of the way can get behind.
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