Ogden schools now considering 11 scenarios for closing, rebuilding elementaries

Saturday , February 17, 2018 - 5:00 AM1 comment

OGDEN — More potential scenarios to overhaul Ogden’s elementary school system — most calling for the closure of four or five schools and reconstruction of others — are on the table.

There are 11 proposals in all now: six new ones publicly revealed at an Ogden School Board meeting Thursday by Superintendent Rich Nye and five identified earlier this month.

But school officials want to whittle them to perhaps three, four or five plans, tentatively by March 1, then seek reaction from the public, probably in a series of town hall meetings, on which direction to go. Even then, officials wouldn’t necessarily close the door on potential change to any of the options that remain as they aim for a plan to inject new life into the Ogden School District, which is beset by declining enrollment and, at several elementary schools, crumbling infrastructure.

“We have to be flexible,” said Jeff Heiner, president of the Ogden School Board.

Meanwhile, another prong of efforts to improve on Ogden schools after voters narrowly rejected a $106.5 million bond proposal last November edges forward — the upgrade of the Ben Lomond High School gym.

RELATED: Ogden School Board considering new bond, closing Gramercy, other elementaries

Addressing elementary facilities would likely require a general-obligation bond, necessitating another vote of the public, maybe in 2018 or 2019. But officials are separately pushing ahead with plans to upgrade the Ben Lomond High School gym via lease-revenue bonds, which don’t require a public vote. School officials posted a formal notice Tuesday proposing issuing $26 million in bonds for the Ben Lomond project and a public hearing on the matter is set for March 1.

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Officials said little Thursday about the Ben Lomond plans, an element of the $106.5 million bond proposal that failed last year, along with the reconstruction of three elementary schools. Rather, the discussion focused more on the need to revamp the elementary school system and how to come up with a plan to do so given the 11 options crafted by school staffers.

Broadly, the 11 plans entail closing four or five schools each and rebuilding others, reducing the overall number of Ogden elementary schools from 14 to nine or 10 to account for declining enrollment. The school reconstruction plans in the failed bond last year entailed building larger, four-section schools, a point of contention for some critics of larger schools, but the new size of the schools to be rebuilt as outlined in the 11 plans isn’t specified.

RELATED: Ogden school officials weigh moving ahead with Ben Lomond HS gym upgrade

But larger schools would be the upshot. And Nye, in their defense, zeroed in on the split classes in Ogden elementary schools — individual classrooms split, say, between fourth- and fifth-graders because there aren’t enough in either grade for a full classroom. Such classrooms — there are eight in Ogden schools — are “less than ideal,” Nye said, and consolidating and rebuilding would allow for their reduction or elimination by creating larger schools with more leeway to create appropriately sized classes.

Anne Tolletson teaches a split class of fourth- and fifth-graders at Polk Elementary and Nye invited her to describe what it’s like to school officials. “We are surviving. We are not teaching,” she said.

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Though she has assistants who help while she deals directly with one age group or the other, the kids, all in all, have less time with her, less chance of a solid, personal connection. “We’re being pulled in too many directions. ... We’re being asked to do the impossible,” she said.

She makes it work, but it’s stressful and the hectic schedule of teaching two age groups, she fears, will lead to burnout.

Notably, building anew and revamping existing schools would also allow for modernization and upgrades.


The array of plans call for varied combinations of school reconstruction or renovation projects and closures involving Horace Mann, T.O. Smith, Wasatch, Bonneville, Gramercy, Taylor Canyon, Polk, James Madison and Hillcrest elementary schools. The five plans unveiled at a Feb. 1 work session all entailed the closure of Gramercy Elementary, but some of the plans revealed Thursday call for the reconstruction of the school, keeping it open.

“I’m hoping you guys will see Gramercy has a lot of potential to stay intact,” Theresa St. John, a Gramercy parent, told school officials during the public comment period of Thursday’s meeting. She was one of three to speak in support of Gramercy, all generating applause from the crowd.

Officials have said some of the school closures could happen as early as later this year. School board member Jennifer Zundel, though, expressed skepticism that there’s enough time to make such a call given other looming decisions that have to be made about school operations for the 2018-2019 school year.

“I would agree,” Nye said.

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Similarly, Heiner said crafting a general-obligation bond proposal for consideration by voters on the November ballot, especially in light of questions many still seem to have about district officials’ plans, “might be difficult.”

RELATED:  Ogden's East Bench voters doomed $106.5 million school bond proposal

Zane Woolstenhulme, the district business administrator, said administrators working with the system’s capital projects committee could review the 11 scenarios, narrowing them to three to five by the March 1 hearing for further consideration. Town hall meetings would probably follow to get more detailed input and reaction from the public.

Meantime, the varied plans were to be posted to the Ogden School District website and Nye and board members invited the public to sound off by contacting them via email or other means.

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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