Record editorial: $90 million price tag would jeopardize South Summit school bond
In 2017, the South Summit School District asked residents to pony up $58.65 million for a new high school to alleviate overcrowding that is straining current facilities.
Voters, bristling at such a significant outlay, rejected a bond measure that fall.
So, naturally, district officials are considering upping their ask to roughly $90 million this time around.
That amount would pay for not only a new high school — at a premium due to increased construction costs — but also a small elementary school in the Silver Creek area, where a large housing development is underway. That would allow the district to be prepared for an influx of families, alleviating the need for them to transport their young children to school 20 minutes away in Kamas.
The ambitious proposal, though, raises an obvious question: How will the district get voters to support it when it couldn’t close the deal on a significantly smaller bond two years ago? Another defeat at the polls would be disastrous, given the urgency of the overcrowding issues, which are so severe district officials have explored the prospect of keeping schools open year-round and putting students on a rotating schedule.
And the problem isn’t going away. According to projections, the student count is expected to increase by nearly 500 from 2018 to 2023, making a new high school — which would allow the district to spread the student body across four Kamas facilities instead of three (not including the existing Silver Summit Academy) — critical. Tacking on $16 million for an elementary school, boosting the estimated annual cost to $715 for an owner of a $438,000 primary home, jeopardizes an already-precarious proposal.
In fairness, the reasoning behind adding the elementary school to the bond does have some merit. Ever since the approval earlier this decade of the Silver Creek Village development, which includes nearly 1,300 housing units southeast of the U.S. 40/Interstate 80 interchange, it’s been clear a school there will eventually be necessary. The district anticipates some families will begin moving in as early as next year.
But it will be years before the development is completely built out, giving officials time to devise an alternative plan for an elementary school. An earlier recommendation, for instance, called for funding the facility, along with an elementary school in Francis, through a separate bond at some point in the future.
Fortunately, school officials have until late summer to make a final decision about the size of the bond they intend to put before voters this fall. They would do well to spend that time reevaluating and settling on a more cautious approach that optimizes the chances of getting funding for the high school approved.
The current proposal, it is clear, puts that vital objective at too much risk.