I recently attended a town hall meeting hosted by the Ogden School District to discuss the proposed bond that will be voted on shortly. With ballots arriving in the mail anytime, I thought it would be good to inform myself on the bond's purpose and scope.
Presently, Ogden School District has a large inventory of aging school buildings that will require upgrades or replacement in the future. The financial tool that the School District has at their disposal, courtesy of the State, to pay these kinds of needs is bonding. In this specific case, the School District has paid down enough of its existing debt to have room to borrow again to pay for new buildings. Coincidentally, the timing is just right to allow the borrowing to occur without increasing property owner's taxes from their present level. This is good news.
All the facts on the proposed bond can be found here. But, in summary, the district proposes borrowing $106.5 Million to replace Horrace Mann Elementary and consolidate Taylor Canyon Elementary with Polk Elementary. The Taylor Canyon site would become a park owned by the district and jointly managed by the city and school district. It would effectively serve as a land bank for any future needs the district has for future generations
The main contention during our recent meeting involved what to do with the Polk Elementary site. While there were a myriad of strong opinions, everyone was in agreement that something has to be done with the school. Presently, deferred maintenance and functional obsolescence of systems has reached a critical point. So, should the school be demolished and rebuilt? Should it be renovated in its current form? Or is a combination of renovation and new construction possible?
The original portion of the school is a beautiful and dignified art deco structure. It was constructed in 1927.
The school sits nestled in the midst of a historic neighborhood constructed in the same style around the same time as the school. So, architectural impacts of a school renovation are a real issue for the residents who will be voting on the bond.
Of course, the building has not remained in pristine condition for its entire lifetime. In the 1950's when OSD was constructing many of its other schools, an addition was put on the building that extends to the south.
This mid-century appendage grafted onto an art deco body added utility to the school while also giving it strange eclectic vibes.
Besides architectural concerns, some folks in the town hall meeting outright rejected the idea of Polk expanding to serve more students than it currently does. Such a position would preclude a tear down of Taylor Canyon Elementary. Yet, the math for the school district does not support the status quo. The district is hemorrhaging students. Here are some examples:
As you can see, Polk Elementary enrollment is down yearly 50% from its levels in 2009. That is a striking decline. If that trend were to continue, there would be no students at the school in 2028. Also, Taylor Canyon shows volatility as its enrollment has ebbed and flowed nearly 20% over the past 8 years. Given these dynamics, consolidating the schools into one makes sense.
One of the main criticisms levied at the town hall meeting had to do with student enrollment. Community members were fearful that combining the two schools would create a "super school" juggernaut that would overwhelm the neighborhood with traffic and congestion. However, if you combine 2017 enrollment for Polk and Taylor Canyon, we get a head count of 683 which is just 50 more students than Polk had by itself in 2008. Surely, Polk (either renovated or rebuilt) could accommodate 50 more students without wrecking the neighborhood since it has handled nearly that much in the past.
The district desires to recast Polk as a "4 section" school which means that each grade level could accommodate four classrooms per grade level. In an unlikely worst case scenario of 30 students per classroom, that would mean a potential of 840 students at the school. In reality, the number would be less than that. Demographics of the East Bench are steering away from abundant child rearing and the increasing availability of charter schools will continue to compete for student enrollment. Nevertheless, a repurposing of the school would accommodate the ebb and flow of enrollment seen at Taylor Canyon while providing top notch facilities for the best learning environments.
So, the final question is should the bond pass? My opinion is a resounding yes! The district is asking voters to approve a line of credit to give them the latitude to make the right improvements. The bond won't fix all of our district's problems but it will address our most urgent needs. Approving the bond will not mean any specific pre-determined course of action will be taken on Polk Elementary's future. Rather, the School Board has committed to work with the community to determine the best outcome for students, taxpayers, and the neighborhood alike after the bond passes. The bond passage will give the school board and community a budget to work with in determining together how to best move forward.
So, please vote YES for Ogden School District's 2017 bond.