Ogden School District looks at building junior high innovation centers

Sunday , June 18, 2017 - 5:15 AM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — The Ogden School District is considering building innovation centers at all three of the junior high schools with money from a proposed bond initiative.

The innovation center idea came from the district’s bond advisory committee, which district spokesman Jer Bates said is made up of community members.

The centers would be a space for students and teachers to work collaboratively in career pathway programs.

Tim Peters of the district’s career and technical education department said the centers would be beneficial.

“It’s about how kids are going to learn in authentic ways, where they would work together in collaborative project-based components,” he said.

At a Board of Education meeting Thursday, June 15, Bates said they held three focus groups, each with about eight people in attendance. The proposal that garnered the most widespread support from the focus groups consists of building three new elementary schools, a rebuild of the Ben Lomond High School gym and a new innovation center at each of the district’s three junior highs.

RELATED: Ben Lomond high gyms in need of repairs

This option would cost $99 million leaving the district with a $1 million contingency to pursue a bond initiative but not increase the tax rate.

Repairing the gym could cost as little as $10 million or as high as $20 million depending on how many upgrades are put into the project, such as indoor turf or a third gym floor.

“It becomes a matter of deciding how much we want to put into it,” Bates said.

Business Administrator Zane Woolstenhulme said there has been talk of using donor funds for the gym but he doesn’t think that’s a reliable option.

In May, the board talked about using bond initiative funds to build new schools rather than renovate old ones. Bond initiative funds can only be used on facilities, per Utah century code.

The new elementary schools are estimated at $24 million each, but Woolstenhulme said construction costs have increased by about 10 percent every year in recent years, so that estimate could be higher the longer they wait to build.

Woolstenhulme said the 10,000 square foot innovation centers are estimated to cost about $2.5 million each. Discussion is ongoing regarding what science, technology, engineering and math programs would be offered at the centers and how.

Board member Jennifer Zundel said the district needs secondary schools that serve the students graduating from STEM-focused New Bridge Elementary School.

“I think every junior high student needs to have the opportunity to access these different possibilities,” she said.

Bates said he sees the centers each having different strengths and programs versus each one offering the exact same coursework.

Next, Bates will meet with city officials as soon as possible to see if they’re on board with the projects they’re considering. Industry partnerships are also a possibility.

“Based on the need for a skilled workforce right now I would be astonished if industry partners weren’t interested in taking an active role getting their industry their names into the heads of our students at that age,” Bates said.

After meeting with city officials, the district’s planning committee will come up with no more than two defined options for the projects the bond initiative could fund for the board to choose from and give their final approval.

Bates said it’s imperative to make that decision and begin educating the public as soon as possible. Instead of waiting for the August board meeting, he will go over the proposals with board members individually to see which one is most-favored.

An official board vote isn’t necessary to select which plan they’ll pursue going forward, Bates said.

The second least preferred option from the focus groups was building four new elementary schools and two new junior high innovation centers which would cost $98 million total. The option on the bottom of the list included three new elementary schools, two new junior high innovation centers and Ben Lomond’s gym renovation, costing $96 million total.

District officials said taxes will not be increased if the bond initiative is kept under $100 million.

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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