Future Schools Project recommends new high school in Wasatch County
A months-long study on Wasatch County schools advised the school district to build a new high school. School employees and parents supported the idea, but concerns about funding were quick to surface.
Wasatch County residents agree: their schools are too crowded. But solving that will be an expensive proposition that would require taxpayers to pony up funds to build more campuses.
A new report says the county needs to build a new high school “as soon as possible,” the same size as Wasatch High School, which is currently the district’s only 9-12 grade campus. And the report also advises building new elementary and middle schools over the next two decades.
GSBS Architects, which studied the district’s needs over the past 8 months, presented its 100-page report, called the Future Schools Project, at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
Board member Marianne Allen said with the plan finalized, the board can begin deciding what to do next. And the board wants to hear more from the community.
“We want to hear from you. The doors are open," Allen said. "Come talk to us. We have to balance the needs of our community and the needs of education and our youth. So tonight, when we say secure funding, that's the start of a process. We know what they're saying we need to do, but there's factors in play. It's been a long process, but this was just step one. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The research involved evaluating school buildings. Committees made up of residents, government leaders, school employees and students all weighed in during the process.
Besides recommending new schools, the plan recommends the district redraw elementary school boundaries due to overcrowding at Midway Elementary.
More than a dozen people spoke after the presentation, some of them school administrators, teachers and committee members.
Many of them commended the district and consultant for the master plan and supported building a new high school.
That majority included Chad Erickson of Heber City, a member of the Wasatch High School Community Council who was on the steering committee for this master plan. He said unlike in 2019, when the district tried to pass a bond to fund a new high school and failed, the process this plan followed impressed him.
He said he supports the GSBS plan.
“We have put so much effort into what’s going on," Erickson said. "We have the plan; it’s very clear. Go to bond. Get us a new high school. The work has been there, it’s been transparent, you’ve done a wonderful job. Thank you for letting me be a part of that.”
Some who spoke shared stories of students who fell behind because they didn’t receive enough individual attention in large classes, especially students with learning challenges.
While support for a new high school was heavy at the board meeting, the memory of the failed 2019 bond was still on some people’s minds.
Chair of the Wasatch Taxpayers Association Tracy Taylor said the timing this year may be tricky. That’s because she said many residents’ property values and taxes will skyrocket this year. She said that will be a result of the county assessor making long overdue updates to property values.
Jerry Duke of Heber City, who had just come from a Wasatch County Council meeting where property taxes were a topic, shared that concern.
“We've had an inequity in our county on taxes for years," Duke said. "And they finally addressed the issue. And when tax notices come out, there's going to be a major scream throughout the county. You put a bond on this fall, on the ballot, and it doesn’t have a chance. I don't want to see it fail.”
Wasatch County has a history of skepticism around tax increases. In 2021, a sales tax that would have levied one penny for every $10 spent to fund recreation, arts and parks failed to pass by eight votes.
For the full Future Schools Project report, visit futureschoolsproject.com. A recording of the school board meeting is posted to the Wasatch County School District YouTube channel.