Deteriorated Polk Elementary below seismic standards, may be rebuilt

Friday , May 11, 2018 - 5:00 AM3 comments

OGDEN — Two engineering firms hired by Ogden School District to survey the Polk Elementary School building reached the same conclusion earlier this month: There are significant deficiencies with the structure, and in the long-run, renovating it would cost virtually the same as rebuilding it.

Zane Woolstenhulme, the school district business administrator, said Ogden schools paid Salt Lake City-based firm BHB Consulting Engineers $18,500 last month to perform a structural evaluation to the Polk Elementary School building that could help the school district decide what to do with it. ARW Engineers, an Ogden-based firm, was paid $3,000 to do the same job.

ARW Engineers is the same firm that did a structural assessment of the elementary school in 2002, Woolstenhulme said. The firm still has the information compiled from that assessment and only charged the school district for part of the new assessment.

Both studies concluded the school’s structure is so deteriorated it could not withstand a significant earthquake.

The school district has been discussing what to do with the school. They are considering multiple scenarios: tearing it down and rebuilding it, or the possibility of upgrading the building so it is compliant with current seismic standards.

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Andrew Van Hook, the project manager at BHB Consulting Engineers, told the school board May 3 that they must consider the building’s seismic performance, design life, flexibility and appropriate learning environment before deciding the fate of the building.

According to the report made by BHB, the non-historic and historic parts of Polk Elementary School “contain many URM (unreinforced masonry) walls that are not properly braced to the floor or roof and do not have the flexural capacity to span the existing story heights.” The study concluded that “the existing wood floor and roof diaphragms are not adequate to resist seismic forces.”

BHB estimated it will cost $1.7 million to renovate just the historic portion of the school, and $2.8 million to renovate the whole building.

The school district also asked the two firms to consider an expansion of about 46,000 square feet as part of their cost estimates.

BHB estimated the total cost to renovate the historic portion and expand the school — including architectural designs, fees, testings and inspections — would be $18 million. To build a new school, however, the estimated cost is $18.2 million.

“In a new design you can construct flexible places,” Van Hook, a product of Ogden schools, said. “It is a cool building, but the dollars are better invested in new construction.”

The estimates provided by ARW Engineers were similar to those provided by BHB.

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The Ogden-based firm estimated it would cost between $1.75 million and $2.25 million to upgrade the building to be compliant with current seismic codes. It also estimated the cost to renovate only the historic portion between $1 million and $1.25 million.

ARW concluded that the structural cost to rebuild a school the same size as Polk Elementary — 46,078 square feet — would range between $1.375 million and $1.845 million.

Looking at both studies, it seems that renovating and preserving the building is relatively cheaper than rebuilding. So, why not do that?

Both ARW and BHB agreed the biggest difference is the estimated life expectancy each route provides. Rebuilding, for example, has a building life expectancy of up to 90 years, while renovating has a building life expectancy of up to 30 years.

Jer Bates, Ogden School District spokesman, said he believes rebuilding the school is the right thing to do.

“Those numbers that were presented, they also take into account (the) life expectancy,” Bates said. “The greater value is a new construction, in terms of just dollars spent.”

He said these studies will help guide the school district in making a final decision.

“Those are all cost and logistical factors that need to be considered,” Bates said. “The district and the board also need to factor the emotional, sentimental, historical perceived value of the building as well.”

Contact education reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at

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