Ogden School District holds open house before $106.5 million bond goes to vote

Tuesday , August 08, 2017 - 4:26 PM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — An Ogden School District open house drew a group of teachers, parents and community members with questions regarding how and why the district needs voters to pass a $106.5 million bond.

At the open house, district spokesman Jer Bates explained a bond is a loan taken out by a school district, and it requires voter approval because that loan is repaid over time using taxpayer dollars. A bond can go only toward buildings and construction.

The district wants to put the money toward rebuilding three elementary schools, rebuilding Ben Lomond High School’s gymnasium, and building two of three Professional Gateway Centers — formerly called innovation centers — at the district’s junior high schools.

Horace Mann Elementary School is the only elementary that has been named for a rebuild so far.

Horace Mann Principal Jileen Xochimitl spoke at Monday’s open house and said she’s surprised and grateful she hasn’t lost more teachers to New Bridge School, the district’s newest elementary, where the open house was held.

“Unfortunately, we’re trying to educate 21st-century learners in 20th-century buildings,” she said.

Xochimitl said her school has “water features” when it rains, and an inadequate number of outlets limits how her teachers can teach their students.

Jamie Carrier, a parent, said she felt more confident supporting the bond after hearing what the district had planned. Her children attended Horace Mann last year.

“I have pictures of water dripping onto electrical units and so this isn’t a little thing,” Carrier said. “This is a big deal. For the safety of our children, we owe it to them to get these buildings going.”

The district has $44 million in needed building repairs, renovations and remodels. Although it would be cheaper to simply remodel aging schools, Bates said, it would merely put a Band-Aid on the problem.

Dorian Stoker, an elementary school counselor for the district, has worked in both new and old facilities.

“My feeling is if we put a bunch of money into modernizing buildings — redoing the wiring — we’re still going to have a 65-year-old school with new wires,” Stoker said after the open house. “After seeing this facility and seeing Shadow Valley (Elementary School), one of the buildings I work in, I can’t understand why someone would not vote for this.”

District officials have said rebuilding elementary schools will ultimately mean closing others. Audience members asked which other schools will be rebuilt and which ones will close, but Bates said that hasn’t been decided.

The district also surveyed those attending the open house, asking, among many things, whether they support the bond, what barriers prevent them from supporting it and whether they preferred two- or three-story elementary school building designs.

The rebuilt elementary schools are slated to hold 800 students, a larger population than most of the district’s existing elementary schools. Some in the audience were opposed to large schools; others said they’ve grown to like them.

“I don’t think we can do the perfect school at that perfect size in that perfect time frame,” Bates said. “We’re asking everyone to come together and make some concessions.”

Roger Snow, the district science, technology, engineering and math coordinator, explained the Professional Gateway Centers will attune students to professional skills with industry partners.

Junior high engineering, business and marketing, and career and technical education teachers will work out of the centers, helping alleviate the need for portable classrooms.

Snow said it’s possible to provide this kind of integrated education to students without the centers; it would just be a lot more difficult.

“These will be the birthplace of new innovation,” he said.

Dale Okerlund, with the financial firm Lewis Young Robertson & Burningham, said the bond won’t increase taxes because the district refinanced its last bond, which saved the district about $1 million per year, and more old debt has been paid off over time.

The district also created a website for voters to access bond information at ogdensdbond.org. The website states there are nine schools that are more than 50 years old.

When an audience member asked why the district’s much newer Dee Elementary School had been demolished and replaced with New Bridge in 2016, Bates explained that was because of a partnership with the city to revitalize downtown Ogden.

Director of Support Services and Athletics Ken Crawford added the 1970s layout had very few walls, which created noisy classrooms teachers had to counteract by making walls with bookshelves.

“It wasn’t a good learning environment,” he said.

The bond will go to a public vote in November. 

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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