Ogden man sees chance to expand parks with school property up for grabs
OGDEN — Steve Van Wagoner is on a mission.
With the Ogden School District hoping to unload 18.2 acres of largely vacant land — including the sites where two schools once sat — he sees an opportunity to increase the amount of open park space in the city. To that end, he’s been a regular at recent Ogden City Council meetings, pressing officials during the public comment portions of the gatherings to acquire the land and incorporate it into the city’s park system.
“I think it’s critical to the future of our children,” he told the Standard-Examiner. “It’s often the small things we do that make the biggest impact.”
For now, it’s not clear what the city will do, if anything. But some Ogden officials indicate they’re open to the idea. “I hope we can get something worked out and get more green space,” City Council member Bart Blair said after Van Wagoner’s most recent appearance before the body on Nov. 15.
Mark Johnson, Ogden’s chief administrative officer, said officials in Mayor Mike Caldwell’s administration are investigating the matter and hope to present possible recommendations to the City Council next week. “Nothing’s off the table. We’re looking at all options,” Johnson said.
Still, he didn’t offer an indication of what may emerge on Tuesday and noted the dire need for housing, another possible use for the open land. The three properties in question are the former sites of Grandview and Lynn elementary schools in southern and north-central Ogden and a vacant plot once earmarked for possible school development in northern Ogden.
The cost the city may have to pay the school district for the land is a big consideration, Johnson said, as well as potential interest from the private sector. Maybe the land would develop without the need for city involvement, he added.
The Ogden school board last September determined the district no longer needs the three pieces of property, that they can be sold off. “The board has determined these properties serve no future educational purpose and (they) have been declared surplus,” said Zane Woolstenhulme, business administrator for the district.
Now, under state law, the city and Weber County have first dibs to acquire the land before it can be offered to the broader public. The city has expressed interest, Woolstenhulme said, but not, apparently, the county.
The 5.2-acre ex-Grandview Elementary property abuts the south side of the city of Ogden’s Grandview Park in the 3800 block of Jackson Avenue. The 5.9-acre ex-Lynn Elementary property sits in the 500 block of Grant Avenue, east of the 4th Street Ball Park baseball fields and south of Romrell Park, both managed by the city. Both schools have been torn down.
The third piece of property sits in a residential neighborhood in the 500 and 600 blocks of Jackson Avenue in northern Ogden, fenced off from the public. “It was acquired a number of years ago, the thinking at the time being that it might be a good place for a future elementary school. It has now been determined that we (will) not be building a school on that property, and it was declared as surplus,” Woolstenhulme said.
With the land up for grabs, Van Wagoner sees a ripe opportunity to assure the presence of more green space in Ogden as the area’s population surges. He helps run Ogden Soccer, a nonprofit youth soccer club, and says there’s a growing need for soccer, lacrosse and football fields. Beyond that, he adds, parks offer a means of promoting health and wellness among the broader public by giving people more space for recreation.
“This is more than just a soccer thing. We could have expanded park footprints adding safe, pedestrian-friendly walking paths, we could add dog parks at multiple locations,” he wrote in an email blast to the soccer community. The land, he went on, could open up opportunities for pickleball and basketball courts, baseball and softball fields and more.
A draft 2019 study of Ogden’s recreational offerings cited by Van Wagoner indicates that there were 3.01 acres of public land in the city for every 1,000 residents at that time. To maintain that ratio as the population grows, according to the study, the city would need 32 more acres of park land by 2028 and 20 acres more on top of that by 2045.
If money’s a sticking point for the city, Wagoner thinks outside organizations could be tapped for funding to help develop the land to keep it as open green space. He also cites the example of Mount Lewis Park in northern Ogden. The city manages the park, but part of the land is owned by the city and part — the site where Edison Elementary, now demolished, once sat — is owned by Ogden School District.
Johnson, however, suspects the school district’s aim is to sell the three parcels that are focus of the current debate, to get rid of it. The district’s legal reps, meantime, say state law regarding surplus property dictates that the land would have to be sold, at a minimum, at its appraised value, according to Woolstenhulme. The land has been appraised, but Woolstenhulme wouldn’t divulge the values.
Van Wagoner, meantime, keeps up his drumbeat. He visited the neighborhoods around the ex-Grandview and ex-Lynn elementary properties on Monday, knocking on doors to get residents up to speed on the issue, to muster support.
During a pause in door knocking on the grounds of the former Lynn Elementary, he gestured to the metal frame, still standing, of what was once a soccer goal. “These pockets are worth preserving. This is like a ghost soccer field,” he said.