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Public stresses class size, proximity as priorities for future Wasatch County schools

Ben Lasseter
Future needs in Wasatch County school facilities, such as J.R. Smith Elementary School, were the focus of the past week's Future Schools Project meetings. They were held at elementary schools, including J.R. Smith, and over Zoom.

The Wasatch County School District wrapped up a week of gathering community feedback for a master planning process Tuesday with input from parents, teachers and the community.

Consultants with GSBS Architects opened Tuesday’s Zoom meeting with Wasatch County community members by explaining the Future Schools Project. The study, led by the consulting firm, began in October and is meant to determine what the community needs in its school facilities.

“These are the guiding values as they address buildings - what the community thinks in terms of education and how buildings can support quality of education,” said Lindsey Ferrari of GSBS.

Between sections of the presentation about student wellness and integrating school facilities into the community, people chimed in with their experiences and preferences.

Several attendees mentioned class sizes.

“My experience is that when the schools are smaller, they tend to be nestled more into the smaller communities, smaller neighborhoods,” said Rod Freudenberg. “The kids can walk to school, ride their bikes. The parents get a sense of ownership of what’s going on in the school, supporting their children.”

Rob Fredericks, who teaches woodworking at Wasatch High School, said the facilities his students use are key, especially in small classes, and his students are better prepared to advance in technical fields than students at other schools.

“Because our kids have real, hands-on experience and opportunities to go and compete and work in the community, it makes a big difference in what these kids can qualify for as they move on for more training outside the high school,” Fredericks said.

Chris Baier, a Hideout Town councilor, asked about the possibility of a school being built in the Jordanelle area to accommodate growth anticipated there.

“I can sympathize or empathize with the parents who are really uncomfortable with sending their kids far away,” she said. “School proximity is an important factor in the master plan, and how they are integrated into the neighborhoods, and that’s something we are looking for.”

Superintendent Paul Sweat said the district owns property near the Jordanelle exit off Highway 40 where it plans to build a school. He said while that’s not official yet, the district is considering a smaller-than-normal elementary school there to accommodate families’ needs.

Dozens of people attended other Future Schools Project meetings over the past week, and the district heard about an array of other priorities. Those included teacher welfare, adult learning programs, involving the elderly population with schools, and changes to after-school pickup and extracurricular programs. Other questions touched on the process of the master plan and how any projects it may recommend could impact people’s taxes.

There’ll be an open house to present the master plan to the public on April 7. Two weeks later, GSBS will present a Future Schools Project draft master plan to the school board based on its findings this winter and spring.

For more information about the events and master plan, visit futureschoolsproject.com. Visit this link to give feedback through an online survey.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.
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