"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Friday, July 22, 2011

3 Elementary Schools Planned for Rebuild in Orem with the Bond

The Bond
On July 19, the Board met to discuss, mostly for the last time before the bond vote, the individual projects scheduled for the bond monies.  The board will vote on Aug. 16, whether or not to put the bond to the voters at the November election.

The biggest change in bond projects was the recommendation to rebuild 3 elementary schools in Orem.  All three have seismic issues and are quite old (around 50 years or so).  They are: Cherry Hill, Westmore, and Grovecrest.  Geneva also needs to be rebuilt, but, due to its proximity to Suncrest, the board might want to think about building one school in between Geneva and Suncrest. Then, we could combine their student populations.  In doing this, the cost of the 3 schools went from an estimate of $11.6M to $23.4M.  This means other projects scheduled for the bond will be pushed out, and some will be taken care of with Capital funds. The business office put together criteria for determining which projects made sense to rebuild, and which should just be fixed.  The criteria were based on dollars, years of useful life left (50 years being the useful life limit), seismic prioritization, and whether or not the dollar amount was too high to realistically be handled with on-going capital funds.  In general, anything over $2M warranted a rebuild. 

The board, while concerned for those schools that were pushed out, was overwhelmingly supportive of the idea of rebuilding the older schools.  The Superintendent noted that the Orem City Council were also very supportive of the rebuild idea.  I asked for more information on student population and capacity, as well as projected growth.  I was told that we could, indeed, be more economically prudent by closing neighborhood schools in some cases, but the immeasurable cost to the individual communities would be devastating.  The idea of having neighborhood schools is something that previous boards have been supportive of, and most people in a community are supportive of, as well.  My fellow board members were pleased with the idea of starting from scratch instead of using a 'band aid' on these schools.  I still wanted to know the opportunity cost for this, but was clearly in the minority.  I understand the possible concerns related to closing schools.  However, I think it is only fiscally responsible to know what the costs actually are before making a decision.  I agree that there are non-monetary costs that come into play.  However, we should at least explore the possibilities before making those decisions.  Again, I was in the minority with that mind-set.

As the Board President went around the room to assess our thoughts on the bond projects, most were basically supportive.  I offered only 2 comments.  1) I am uncomfortable with going into debt to fund weight room expansions at Lone Peak and Timpanogos.  It is based on the principle that we shouldn't be going into debt, and we, if necessary, could pay for this with capital funds at some point in the future--if the priority is sufficient.  It is readily acknowledged that there do need to be projects in all the areas of the district to gain widespread support for the bond.  The weight room addition is the only bond project in North Orem and only the second bond project in the Northeast (Highland, Alpine, etc).  2) We had discussed the desirability of getting out of debt and going to a "pay as you go" plan for capital costs at our retreat on Monday.  I suggested that a bond would be better accepted by the fiscally-concerned should we have a plan to get out of debt, even if it were saving just a small amount of money every year.  The downside to this: Whatever we save for future needs, we aren't able to spend now on existing needs.  The overall philosophy of the board was suggested to be that getting out of debt is important and something we want to strive for.  However, due to the current economics, it isn't something that is feasible now.  Someday, it will be. 

The seismic projects still on the bond are as follows:
  • Alpine Elementary (seismic only): $1.845M
  • Orem Jr (addition and seismic): $5.5M
  • Sego Lily (seismic only): $825,000
It is important to note, the remaining seismic projects are still projected for, under our 5-year capital plan.  As the board gets capital funds every year, they will prioritize which projects should be undertaken and when.  However, it does depend on funding and priorities, every year.  Right now, the seismic retrofittings will take until 2020 to complete throughout the district. To download the seismic priority list, click here.


  1. I agree with you, Wendy. I would want much more information before pressing forward, especially with so much money on the line. It seems not nearly enough research has been done. Can I sign a petition?

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this complicated issue of school seismic safety Wendy. I applaud Alpine (and other) school districts for the need to ask for and allocate funds to address the physical safety of persons in school buildings. It's an issue worthy of our best efforts to find solutions both reasonable and with some degree of urgency.

    Finding the correct balance for spending Alpines proposed bond monies presents lots of opposing issues as you've outlined. Choices at this time probably need to reflect the most reasonable allocation based on the beginning premise's established when this was undertaken. The board should definitely consider those ideas yet not limit their thinking as to how your future position might better serve the greatest number of schools needing seismic improvements.

    You've taken the first critical step in roughly sizing up your existing building stock and assigning some seismic priorities. It's important to understand that faced with incredible "single stage" rehabilitation costs, there are other ways to move toward seismic safety. Staging improvements through your maintenance program (and thus capital costs) can get a larger bang for the buck. Seismic improvements can be prioritized for each building and tackled as the funds are available. Knowing that there are two or three things in that list of items needed to fully rehabilitate a building that if done now will reduce the hazard by 70% or 80% could help shape thinking and allow for more to be done with the precious dollars available now.

    I'd encourage your board to review FEMA 395 "Incremental Seismic Rehabilitation of School Buildings (K-12)" and consider it for your deliberations on how to best achieve seismic improvements in your schools.