Ogden School Board considering new bond, closing Gramercy, other elementaries

Saturday , February 03, 2018 - 5:00 AM20 comments

The Ogden School District Board of Education is considering several options, including school closures, as it attempts to move forward after a failed bond proposal last November.

Zane Woolstenhulme, Ogden School District business administrator, presented five scenarios at the Feb. 1 board work session.

Although the scenarios vary significantly and some would close multiple schools, they all have one thing in common: Gramercy Elementary is likely closing this fall.

Gramercy Elementary students will be split between Horace Mann Elementary, Bonneville Elementary, Heritage Elementary and New Bridge Elementary, depending on the scenario.

According to Woolstenhulme, architects said Gramercy has the worst structural conditions in the district. 

Ogden School Board Vice President Jennifer Zundel said members of the Gramercy community need to know about the board’s discussion on the future of the school.

“If I was told that my school was going to be closed next year, I would want to know as soon as somebody knows,” Zundel said. “We are talking about people’s livelihoods.”

School closures were not part of the November 2017 proposal.

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When asked why the board is considering school closures this time, Woolstenhulme said the bond was proposed before the last headcount. As of Oct. 1, there were 400 fewer students in the district.

> 10 graphs to explain Ogden and Weber County’s changing schools

“I’ve been suggesting the board to take into consideration closing some schools because it costs a lot of money to keep these schools running,” Woolstenhulme said.

He said the school district spends about $300,000 on each school every year.

All scenarios presented by Woolstenhulme use a mix of lease revenue bonds, general obligation bonds and school consolidations to accomplish the demolition and rebuilding of schools.

A lease revenue bond does not need voter approval since no taxes will be used for the completion of projects. A general obligation bond, however, needs to be voted on by residents.

Woolstenhulme said the board’s Capital Projects Committee is supportive of a scenario where a lease revenue bond would be used to build the Ben Lomond High gym and two professional Gateway Centers.

Under this scenario, a general obligation bond would appear on the November 2018 ballot to rebuild Horace Mann, Taylor Canyon, T.O. Smith, Hillcrest and Wasatch elementary schools. However, Gramercy, Polk, James Madison and Bonneville elementaries would be permanently closed.

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Woolstenhulme said the board is still working on a potential timeframe for rebuilding the schools.

Under this scenario, Gramercy Elementary would close this year and Polk Elementary would close in 2022, followed by Bonneville and James Madison elementaries in 2023. Some students may experience three elementary school changes, depending on the boundary alignments.

The bond, Woolstenhulme said, would be about the same amount as last year’s $106.5 million proposal.

“We would not be able to do this without a tax increase,” Woolstenhulme said. “We are going to do more, so it’s going to cost more.”

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Under some scenarios presented by Woolstenhulme, the East Bench will only have one elementary school. None of the scenarios are final, and some details were not provided by Woolstenhulme as they are still discussing the different options.

Board President Jeff Heiner said the board needs to be cautious when making decisions like this. He said the board knows how passionate some people are about school size.

“Having one elementary in the East Bench is tight and may cause a lot of angst,” Heiner said.

Heiner also acknowledged that many parts of the proposed scenarios were already included in the last bond proposal.

“We are moving with a plan that got turned down,” Heiner said.

In terms of finances, a lease revenue of $25 million would be preferred, as it would leave some room in the budget for emergency money, Woolstenhulme said.

Zundel said the Ben Lomond High gym needs to be prioritized moving forward.

“That gym is falling apart,” Zundel said. “It has to happen and it has to happen ASAP.”

Woolstenhulme said that, if any of these school closures happen, the district would transfer the teachers to another, functioning school. Layoffs are not being considered.

“If a teacher is worried about their job next year, I hope it’s not because of this,” Woolstenhulme said.

The board will discuss the scenarios in its regular meeting at 5 p.m. on Feb. 15.

Contact education reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at [email protected] or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/STANDARDEXSergio.

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