OGDEN — Last year, the prospect of tearing down Polk School on Ogden’s East Bench and rebuilding it, bigger than the original, filled Susan Garner, a neighbor, with dread.
“The idea of looking out my window and seeing this hulking building and these cars going by,” she said, her voice trailing off. The new structure, as proposed, “was just an odd fit” in the quiet residential neighborhood.
Fast forward a year and she’s experienced a 180-degree turnaround. Voters last year narrowly rejected the Ogden School District bond proposal containing the earlier Polk plan, a focal point of opposition, though just one element of the bond. But Garner, who voted no, said the new bond plan with a reworked Polk proposal now gets her backing. She credited the willingness of school officials to heed the concerns of critics like herself in the wake of the failed 2017 vote.
“They’ve listened. They changed. I think it’s a great thing,” she said.
Garner, parent of two Polk kids, isn’t the only one with a softer outlook. With about a month to go until Election Day, Nov. 6, there seems to be no groundswell of opposition in the Polk neighborhood against the district’s $87 million bond plan, gauging by responses at an open house on Tuesday at the school on the proposal. Other former bond foes also now count themselves as backers.
“I haven’t heard anybody complaining,” said Julie Petersen, a Polk parent who backed the school bond proposal last year and backs the reworked version this year as well.
As with Garner, the proposal to preserve and renovate the oldest part of Polk, a red brick structure that first opened in 1927, figures in Josh Crowton’s newfound support. As originally proposed in last year’s bond, the entire building would have been razed to make way for a new facility, a big point of concern for many.
“Why tear something down that has stood the test of time?” said Crowton, the parent of one child at Polk. Though the oldest part of Polk would stay standing per the new bond proposal, the newer sections of the school would be torn down and replaced.
Likewise, school officials have stepped back from earlier plans that called for a larger building that could have potentially housed up to 800 students, another factor in the changed sentiments. The prospect of larger grade schools, at Polk and other schools to be rebuilt per the 2017 bond plans, alarmed many parents on the East Bench, worried the facilities would lose their personal touch.
To be sure, the Polk plans aren’t the only element of the bond proposals this year or last year. The new $87 million proposal also calls for rebuilding Horace Mann and T.O. Smith schools, like the 2017 version, and adding a wing to Wasatch Elementary. But much of the debate last year focused on Polk, which sits in a relatively affluent neighborhood and, given its years of operation, counts many Ogden residents among its alumni.
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Others also praised the process Ogden school officials followed in coming up with a new bond plan, holding numerous public meetings and gathering input from district residents and parents. Two groups opposed to the 2017 plan announced last month that they back the 2018 reincarnation, Ogden Education, a grassroots group made up of district parents and others, and the Weber County Heritage Foundation, a historic preservation group.
Still, some have questions, and they aren’t all about Polk.
Lee Crittenden, another attendee at the Polk open house — one of several the district plans around the city through Oct. 16 — wonders how the bond would impact his property taxes. The district says the proposal could increase taxes by $138 on a home valued at $196,000, the average.
Ron Hale wants assurances that school officials will only use bond funds as proposed. The ballot language for the bond states that the $87 million is to be used to upgrade Horace Mann, T.O. Smith, Polk and Wasatch schools. He also isn’t so sure about the idea of renovating the older part of Polk, which could end up costing more than just tearing it all down and building anew.
Per district estimates, maintaining the oldest part of Polk and renovating the school could cost $30 million versus the $25 million price tag for tearing it all down and building a completely new structure. With that in mind, there’s been talk of a drive to raise funds from the private sector to help with Polk’s renovation, complementing funding from the district, should voters approve the bond.
“Nothing has been formalized regarding Polk, but a number of community members have expressed interest in contributing to the building’s renovation, should the bond pass, and we look forward to working with the (Ogden School Foundation) to that end,” Jer Bates, the district spokesman, said in an email. The foundation aided in raising funds from the private sector to help with a major renovation of Ogden High School, completed in 2012.