October 30, 2009
Amy Stewart

Despite the recession, school district officials point to low construction costs and dipping interest rates as excellent reasons to go forward with bond elections for school building needs.

“We can get a bigger bang for our buck,” said Granite School District Superintendent Stephen Ronnenkamp.

Davis School District is opening an elementary school in fall 2010. A prototype of the new school is Foxboro Elementary School in west Kaysville, which opened this fall. The 2010 school is being built for $2 million less.

“Construction costs have gone down that much,” Superintendent Bryan Bowles said. “It’s a good time for us to build.”

Davis, Granite and Duchesne school districts are asking residents for approval to borrow money to expand, replace or build new school buildings. Residents will have the opportunity Tuesday to vote on their districts’ proposed bond referendums for capital projects.

Duchesne District’s proposal would mean a tax hike for its residents.

However, Granite and Davis residents would see no increase in property taxes if the bond referendums pass because the two districts have paid off old bond debts. This is despite misleading wording required by law on Tuesday’s ballots.

The Utah Taxpayers Association has endorsed Granite’s and Duchesne’s proposals and remains neutral about the Davis bond.

The three districts’ proposals vary by amount of taxes, plans for spending and reasons for requesting the funding. However, all three districts have the common goal of striving to better meet the needs of schoolchildren.

“We’re doing this for the kids,” Ronnenkamp said.

Granite School District is proposing a $256 million bond. Residents would not have a tax increase if the bond passes. It would be the difference of $133 per $250,000 home. The district’s plan calls for air conditioning in the remaining 60 percent of its schools, rebuilding five schools and constructing three new schools.

Davis School District is asking for a $250 million bond. Taxes won’t go up for Davis residents if the bond passes since the district has paid off old debt. If the bond doesn’t pass, taxes would decrease gradually up to $156.93 on a home valued at $252,000 over the duration of nine years. The district’s plan is to construct three new schools, rebuild one school and add classrooms at several schools.

Duchesne School District wants to bond for $49 million, which would be a tax increase of $65 annually on a $113,000 home. If the bond doesn’t pass, taxes would go down $103 between now and 2021, when the existing bond is paid off. The district plans to build an additional elementary school and replace two high schools.

The influx of students is one reason the three districts need to build. Granite and Duchesne districts are experiencing moderate enrollment growth, while Davis continues to grow by about 1,000 students annually.

Granite District is especially suffering from aging school buildings, and Duchesne and Davis districts are also seeing challenges in that area.

Granite’s most recent bond was approved in 1983 and was due to rapid enrollment growth. As of 1996, the district has had no bond debt and has instead been using $17 million out of its capital-outlay budget to pay for school projects, such as the recently built Diamond Ridge Elementary School, which opened this fall. If the bond passes, the district would use the $17 million for bond payments.

Granite’s plan is to rebuild Granger and Olympus high schools, Woodstock and Oakwood elementary schools and the Hartvigsen school for medically fragile students, as well as construct two new elementary schools and a new junior high school. Roughly $60 million of the bond funding would go toward installing air conditioning in 51 schools.

“Air conditioning is a big piece of this. Kids need facilities that provide a good learning environment,” Ronnenkamp said, adding that the buildings could better be used as community centers if they had air conditioning.

Davis aims to build one new junior high school in west Kaysville; construct three new elementary schools in west Layton, West Point and a yet-to-be-determined site; rebuild Wasatch Elementary School; and create a school for medically fragile students.

The district also is planning additions at four schools: Millcreek Junior High, Woods Cross High, South Weber Elementary and Layton High.

Davis officials also want to make property purchases for future school sites so the district isn’t caught in a situation of needing a school in an area where there is no land available to be built, Bowles said.

“Raw land (costs) less than developed land,” he said.