Polk, Horace Mann, T.O. Smith parents see good, bad in Ogden school bond plan

Saturday , November 04, 2017 - 5:00 AM3 comments

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — The debate rages.

“Vote Yes!” signs placed by advocates clash with “Vote No!” signs outside some Ogden schools as supporters and critics of the Ogden School District’s $106.5 million bond proposal jockey for support. The money would be used, in part, to build a new gym at Ben Lomond High School and collaborative classrooms at two junior high schools.

But getting more focus are plans to rebuild and enlarge Polk, Horace Mann and T.O. Smith elementary schools at a cost of about $25 million per facility. Parents and school officials at T.O. Smith and Horace Mann seem unified in their support for the bond, the focus of voting through Nov. 7, Election Day. The schools are outdated, leaky and susceptible to earthquakes, many say.

RELATED: Ogden's Polk school at heart of debate over $106.5 million bond proposal

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At Polk, by contrast, opinion is split, though most recognize the need to upgrade the facility, built in 1926 and Ogden’s oldest elementary school. Many worry plans to make the school bigger — capable of housing up to 800 students — will take away from the personal feel of the facility. Others say the notion of renovating the historic brick building rather than demolishing it needs more consideration before they’ll back increased bonding.

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Here are some of the many views.

Lindsi Bernal, parent of two T.O. Smith students and a bond backer: “Honestly, I don’t really care what the building looks like as long it’s updated and new,” she said. “We just want a safe environment for our kids to go to school.”

Opposition to the bond proposal irks her given the rough conditions at T.O. Smith, with its leaky roof, peculiar smells and unreliable heating and cooling system. “I think it’s sad that our children that have to be in the school eight hours a day don’t have a voice,” she said.

T.O. Smith, located at 3295 Gramercy Ave. in southern Ogden, was built in 1956 and now houses about 500 kids.

Rachel Trotter, parent of a Polk student and undecided on the bond: She loves the close-knit feel of the school, which has garnered top marks for student performance and has an enrollment of about 310, making it Ogden’s smallest elementary facility.

“I think, ‘Why are we messing with the performance success that we have right now? Why do we want to mess with that?’” she said. That said, the susceptibility of the school to an earthquake worries her and she knows it needs to be upgraded. 

Polk is at 2615 Polk Ave. on Ogden’s East Bench.

Rusty Sessions, parent of three Horace Mann students and a bond backer: “I worry about the kids’ safety because of the older building,” he said, alluding to the structure’s susceptibility to an earthquake, should one hit. “I’m also concerned with how far the teachers can take education.”

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As is, if too many people are using computers at the same time or otherwise tapping into the school’s power grid, it can overload the building’s capabilities, blowing a fuse and darkening part of Horace Mann, at least temporarily. A new building would remedy that and allow teachers to better harness modern technology in the classroom.

Parents at Horace Mann, he said, are very involved in school activities and their children’s academic lives. Making the school bigger, as proposed, and drawing in more students would enable them to extend that spirit of involvement to more parents.

“It’s something the majority of us want to happen,” he said.

Horace Mann, located at 1300 Ninth St., was built in 1954 and houses about 430 students.

Joshua Crowton, parent of two Polk students and a bond foe: “There’s no reason to put one huge school on the East Bench,” he said.

Taylor Canyon School, also on the East Bench, would close per the school district plans to rebuild and enlarge Polk. But Crowton decried that, saying the relatively small schools in the sector — Taylor Canyon, Polk and Wasatch School — serve the unique East Bench area well.

RELATED: Polk Elementary community voices concerns with potential school rebuild

“These small schools work because the neighborhoods are small,” he said.

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Enlarging Polk — to a size that could potentially accommodate 800 kids — would result in increased traffic in the residential neighborhood around the school, he worries, altering its quiet character. “My grandpa went there...and my mom went there. There’s a lot of history,” he said.

Amanda Carroll, mother of three at T.O. Smith and a bond backer: “There’s just not enough space,” she said.

Seven portable structures at T.O. Smith supplement the classroom space in the main building, requiring kids to move back and forth depending on their class schedule. She sympathizes with the Polk critics’ calls for smaller neighborhood schools, but is moved more by the need for a better facility at T.O. Smith.

“Anyone who visits T.O. Smith can pretty clearly see it needs to be updated,” she said.

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If the bond fails and the measure is reworked, as sought by critics, she worries a new bond proposal will cost more and face a tougher time when put to voters.

Shanda Richey, parent of one at Horace Mann and a bond backer: Addressing Horace Mann’s physical deficiencies — the leaky roof, susceptibility to earthquake — are Richey’s main concerns.

She sympathizes with some parents’ calls for smaller grade schools, but thinks there’s much more to gain than lose per the bond proposal. “I really feel this is the most good we can do for the most kids with the resources we have,” she said.

If Polk parents prefer renovation of the old school rather than construction, she’s all for it, but thinks they and their backers should generate the funds to cover the extra cost likely to come from such a project. At the same time, she’s leery of delaying the bond proposal to fine-tune its provisions, as sought by critics, noting that rebuilding Polk would probably be several years off anyway. That’s enough time for Polk parents and school officials to reach middle ground on the school’s future.

Defeating the bond to rework the funding proposal “just delays everything,” she said.

Shawn Console, parent of a T.O. Smith student and a bond proponent: “It’s kind of sad when you walk by a heater and it sounds like it’s going to blow up. They make a lot of noise,” he said. “The roof leaks. That school just needs to be redone.”

Most in the T.O. Smith community favor plans to rebuild. “I think everybody in the school and staff and the people who live in the neighborhood — they want it to change,” he said.

Amanda Grant, parent of a Polk student and a bond critic: Enlarging Polk into a “super school,” as she puts it, will irrevocably change it. “You cannot have an 800-, 840-student school and keep the same neighborhood feel. It’s not going to happen,” she said.

The kids at Polk are the same ones her son knows from the neighborhood. Teachers of all grades at the school know the boy’s name and he knows theirs, the sort of intimacy she believes will be lost at a bigger facility.

She thinks officials should consider divvying up the $25 million that would be used to rebuild Polk and using it to upgrade Polk, Wasatch and Taylor Canyon, preserving the small schools in the East Bench area.

“Why can’t we have some updates and upgrades at Polk and maintain our small school?” she said. “I would like to see them realize our neighborhood schools are unique and that they’re valuable to the neighborhoods, that they’re worth saving and maintaining.”

Jennifer Petersen, parent of a Polk student and a bond backer: “As beautiful and unique as the original school is, it is a building that is definitely aged and our teachers, although they have done an excellent job at making due with the old building, need a building that is suitable for what they teach today,” she said.

She’s OK with building anew or pitching in funds to cover the extra cost of renovating the existing building, if that’s the consensus.

“Even though we have our own little school communities throughout the city, we are part of the bigger Ogden community and when we make a decision like this to put money into our schools, we show that we are supporters of education and the future of our children,” she said.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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