Weber School District talks new schools, renovations with bond initiative

Friday , June 16, 2017 - 4:48 PM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — The Weber School District is looking at renovations, building a new junior high school and three elementary schools should a bond initiative pass this fall.

At a meeting Thursday, June 15, a group of Board of Education members and district administrators talked about whether to ask for a tax increase and which buildings have the most dire need for improvements.

No official decisions were made and the next step will be taking the options the group talked about to the public in the form of an online survey, conducted by Y2 Analytics.

Board members Janis Christensen, Jon Ritchie and Paul Widdison all said it’s important the public understands the bond initiative.

“We just need to make sure to communicate to the people in the county out there so they understand exactly what we’re asking for and what they’re getting in return,” Widdison said.

District spokesman Lane Findlay said he doesn’t know when the survey will take place but he hopes to have results by the group’s next study session in July.

Options

All three options involve building a $22 million new elementary school in Farr West, a $22 million new elementary school in Pleasant View, a $5 million 12-classroom addition on Fremont High School, a $38 million renovation of Roy Junior High School and a $10 million addition at Weber Innovation High School.

Option one would fund just those projects with a $95 to $97 million bond initiative that would not increase the tax rate.

Preston Kirk of the investment banking firm George K. Baum & Company gave a presentation on tax rates at the meeting and came up with the $95 million cap on the bond initiative the district could seek without impacting tax rates.

Option two would add on a $24 million new elementary school in Kanesville and a $40 million new junior high school in West Haven. This would bring the bond total to $161 million and mean a tax rate increase averaging $2-$3 per month. 

The per-month tax increase is calculated using the county’s average home value of $243,000 which was set by the Utah State Tax Commission. Findlay said those with higher value homes would be taxed slightly more and visa versa.

Option three would include all of the projects from the first two options and add on a $25 million renovation at Roosevelt Elementary School, a $20 million renovation at Canyon View School — a special education facility the district is currently renting — and a $40 million rebuild of T.H. Bell Junior High School.

That would bring the bond initiative total to $246 million. The estimated average per household tax rate increase wasn’t available from the district as of Friday afternoon.

All of these dollar figures are preliminary and subject to change with the economy and future property values. Building times vary by project and would take between seven and 26 months starting in winter 2018 and ending in summer 2022. 

The district has historically sought a bond initiative every five or six years. The group of district officials said if the renovations as Roosevelt Elementary, Canyon View and T.H. Bell weren’t ultimately included in this year’s bond initiative, they would be a top priority next time.

If option two or three is selected and voters approve the bond initiative this fall the tax rate increases would go into effect immediately, Findlay said.

The need

The primary driving force behind the buildings the group talked about is enrollment growth, Superintendent Jeff Stephens said.

A bond initiative can only be spent on facilities per Utah century code.

Director of Facilities Scott Zellmer said Fremont High has 12 portable classrooms which cost roughly $65,000 each new, so adding on to the school would free up at least some of the ones already owned to distribute to other schools that need them.

Roy Junior High’s gym was built in the late 1980s and would be saved during the renovation, but the original building is about 70 years old.

“The Roy Junior High rebuild is critical not only to replace an aging facility but increase capacity as well,” Stephens said.

The Weber Innovation Center addition would ideally increase capacity from about 250 to 500-600 students, Stephens said, which would ease pressure at already full schools like Fremont and Weber high schools.

Zellmer said the new elementary schools would be one-story facilities and are critical to address growth in several areas of the district.

Roosevelt Elementary and Canyon View’s renovations were considered a higher priority for this bond cycle by the group but ultimately moved down in priority under a new junior high in West Haven.

Canyon View needs to be changed to better serve the special education students who attend it, Zellmer said, and Roosevelt needs a roof repaired.

“The challenge with Roosevelt is we’re not ready for it,” Stephens said. “We need property acquisition quite frankly and that’s a little iffy.”

The district’s last bond passed in 2012 and Stephens said people were discouraged when the projects they favored weren’t included. He pointed out that several of those specific projects, like Roy Junior High, are a high priority now.

“They move up and often you can get support from a community even though you're not building in that community by showing them they’re moving up the line,” he said.

The group isn’t pursuing building a new high school because Stephens said it would spread enrollment too thin, which isn’t a responsible use of taxpayer dollars.

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

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