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Enrollment is dropping, construction costs rising for Park City School District

JRES work stopped in July.jpg
KPCW
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Work at Jeremy Ranch Elementary School was well underway this summer when Summit County ordered it stopped until the Park City School District obtained necessary permits.

At Tuesday’s Park City Board of Education meeting, members heard that construction delays are going to drive up costs. The board also got an enrollment update.

At the Park City Board of Education meeting Tuesday, district Chief Operating Officer Mike Tanner said construction delays combined with early cold weather are pushing project costs higher.

Construction at four campuses including Jeremy Ranch Elementary and Ecker Hill Middle School are under Summit County jurisdiction; work at the high school and McPolin Elementary School is regulated by the city and the Utah State Board of Education.

Work was paused at all campuses where the district broke ground over the summer due to lack of permits and project numbers. Those are only issued after the district meets requirements such as conditional use permits, plans for stormwater runoff and fire marshal review.

Tanner said the board would have a decision to make regarding working through winter once it sees the new price tag.

“We anticipated already having foundations and coatings down and walls up and having these projects on the roof,” Tanner said. “We don't have that yet because of some of these permitting delays. And so there's going to be costs associated with that in the work and we’re getting that determination right now from our contractors. Construction can continue during the winter, they do it all the time. It's just that now cost and quality issues become considerations.”

Board member Andrew Caplan placed blame for added expense squarely on Summit County, calling out county council member Glenn Wright by name.

“We can send a bill to the county council, I guess. Thanks, Glenn,” Caplan said. “Appreciate your buddies.”

Wright responded Wednesday to say that following rules is the district’s responsibility, not his.

When Summit County issued a stop work order for construction at Jeremy Ranch in July, former county manager Tom Fisher told KPCW that as part of the district’s master planning committee he had advised it repeatedly on permit requirements through several years of meetings.

When the stop work order was issued and a $500 fine levied after construction continued, the district attributed that to differing legal views. After about a month of work involving the Summit County attorney’s office and the district’s lawyers, the district apparently dropped the dispute and sought a permit.

The school board also got a district enrollment update. According to new business administrator Randy Upton, there are currently 4,350 students in the district, which is abut 140 fewer than projected.

In the past four years the district’s student population has shrunk by nearly 500 students. Next school year’s student body population is projected to be 150 students smaller than this year’s, at just under 4,200.

Upton said Park City’s demographics mirror state trends and reflect a declining birth rate.

Another trend is that fewer Park City School District students are economically disadvantaged than in past years. Caplan addressed that as well.

“The percentage of students on free and reduced lunch is 16. It was 25 when I started six years ago, and so you have 10% of our student body or 500 kids who have left the community who are economically disadvantaged,” Caplan said. “I think that's a loss for the whole community from a lot of different angles. It's, you know, it's changing the composition of our community and obviously our schools.”

Enrollment numbers affect how the district fulfills Utah’s open enrollment requirements. State law requires districts allow students to enroll in any district they like; districts must adopt policies governing how they accept or reject out-of-district applications.

Districts manage how open enrollment works each year in relation to maintaining class sizes and campus offerings.

The board decided to hold off on deciding which campuses would be open for out-of-district students until its next meeting in December.

The meeting began with Park City teachers union co-president Mary Morgan asking that the district develop contingency plans for construction-related snafus that affect school operations, such as the recent closure at Jeremy Ranch due to electrical problems and after that, a closure of bathrooms, requiring students to use the construction port-a-potties on site.

Morgan also asked that construction managers meet with employees at all sites where work will occur, to explain processes and answer questions.

And she highlighted that compensation negotiations are beginning, and the union will be seeking what she called a more livable wage along with more planning time for teachers.

Michelle, who joined KPCW in 2021, arrived in Utah in 2018 by way of Massachusetts, where the skiing was icy and the mosquitoes formidable. A former daily newspaper reporter and editor (at the Visalia Times-Delta in CA) and columnist (at The Cohasset Mariner in MA), Michelle has been a writer and editor for decades. She holds a journalism degree from CSU Fresno and has worked as a journalist, freelance writer and web content creator, reporting extensively on education and youth along with general assignment and breaking news.