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Alpine School District board begins 2022 bond talks

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The Alpine School District Board of Education has restarted talks about what projects might be on a possible bond.

“There will be choices to make,” Shane Farnsworth, the district’s superintendent, told the board during a Dec. 14 meeting. “Lots of plans, and opportunities, and needs.”

The board was in the process of placing a bond on the 2020 ballot. However, after the pandemic hit, the governing body delayed the process by two years out of fears that one wouldn’t pass due to the state of the economy. The board never set a price – although $500 million was supported by the public in a survey – or named projects that would be funded by a bond.

If a bond is placed on the November 2022 ballot and passes, it would likely fund the construction of new schools, the rebuilding of aging schools and purchase land for future facilities. Bonds cannot be used for teacher salaries.

Voters last approved a bond in 2016. Its projects included Cedar Valley High School in Eagle Mountain, a new middle school in Lehi and multiple elementary schools and land purchases. 

The district of more than 82,000 students continues to see tremendous growth, mostly on its western side, while some elementary schools in Orem have seen mergers or consolidations due to declining enrollment.

The initial discussion about projects will be followed by school walkthroughs, focus groups and meetings with parents and school staff. The district will also hire a third-party consultant to gather more information.

With inflation and the cost of construction continuing to increase, the board will have to decide which projects are essential.

“We just need to make sure that when we are talking about things that we need and what we want, that everyone sees the big picture,” said Kimberly Bird, the district’s executive director of internal relations and operations.

Bird recommended that the district show examples of projects that have been done with existing capital funds, like remodels. She also pointed to new athletic fields and a $1 million satellite classroom unit being installed at Cedar Valley High School. 

Plans can change if there is a state push to offer all-day kindergarten. If that happens, portable classrooms might be moved to sites, and other grades moved into them, so kindergarten students can attend class in a school’s main building. Offering all-day kindergarten also might come along with one-time funds from the state to help accommodate the transition. 

The district might introduce the idea of a “learning ready classroom” this spring that will address how to distribute tools equally across the district, such as making sure that older schools have the same access to technology as newer ones. 

A bond will likely address the need to finish school rebuilds at aging high schools. Three – Lehi, Pleasant Grove and American Fork – were built in 1959. While Lehi High School’s phases have been completed, Pleasant Grove and American Fork high schools still have phases left to be finished. The schools have been rebuilt in increments to manage costs and handle having construction on the same site as students. 

A FEMA report that’s anticipated to be released early next year will provide more insight into the schools’ seismic safety and needs. 

The board was encouraged to create an eight to 10-year plan about facilities that would address a strategy to handle growth and anticipate a possible district split.

Julie King, a member of the board, pointed to a needed high school in Saratoga Springs, two elementary schools in Eagle Mountain and one in the Lehi area. But, she said, with 13 elementary schools that will have more than 1,000 students by 2026, she thinks a possible bond needs to include funding for at least six elementary schools.

Amber Bonner, another member of the board, wants enrollment and space at Lone Peak High School to be discussed. The school has the largest number of students per classroom, along with the least space per student.

“We need help, and I don’t see anything here to address that issue,” she said. 

The district plans to resurvey the public to discover what’s being identified as a need and how much of an increase in property taxes voters would support. A survey two years ago revealed that voters wanted the district to adjust school boundaries and consolidate facilities before placing a bond on the budget, according to Rob Smith, ASD’s business administrator.

However, he said, that opinion might have shifted.

“The story today is very different from what it was even two years ago,” he told the board.

The board will likely finalize a project list and price tag this summer. A resolution to place a bond on the November ballot will likely be made in either July or August.

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