Ogden school officials weigh moving ahead with Ben Lomond HS gym upgrade

Friday , January 05, 2018 - 5:15 AM8 comments

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Ogden School District officials haven’t given up on the slate of projects in the $106.5 million bond proposal narrowly shot down by voters last November.

They’re considering moving ahead with a major upgrade of the Ben Lomond High School gym, one of six elements of the bond proposal, tapping existing revenue sources. Moreover, the officials are weighing rebuilding at least one elementary school, also tapping existing fund sources, and even broached the notion of putting a reworked bond proposal to voters this coming November.

Though the bond proposal failed, “capital needs have not changed,” Ogden School District Superintendent Rich Nye said at Wednesday’s Ogden Board of Education work session.

RELATED: Ogden's East Bench voters doomed $106.5 million school bond proposal

Still, nothing is official at this stage. Board members talked for about two hours, seeming to reach consensus on moving ahead with the gym upgrade, with an estimated price tag of $20 million, and a formal proposal could come up for consideration at their next regular meeting, on Jan. 18.

“We made a promise to that Ben Lomond community that we would address that gym,” Jeff Heiner, the school board president, said. The original $106.5 million bond proposal cites safety deficiencies in the existing gym, lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and outdated plumbing and ductwork.

More generally, several board members noted continued needs throughout the district and rising construction costs. Holding off on capital plans would only make them more costly in years to come given inflation, even factoring likely interest payment costs for financing.

“I would like to see us move forward. The longer we wait, the older the schools get,” said board member Susan Richards. “We need to show positive energy, that we can do it.”

Inaction “is not only not an option, it’s not very smart on our part,” said board member Don Belnap.

Instead of general obligation bonds, paid for by levying property taxes, officials are mulling use of lease revenue bonds for the Ben Lomond project, paid via existing revenue streams. Unlike general obligation bonds, lease revenue bonds — tapped to cover the cost of building New Bridge Elementary — don’t require a vote of the public.

RELATED: Polk, Horace Mann, T.O. Smith parents see good, bad in Ogden school bond plan

The officials also discussed using lease revenue bond funding to rebuild a yet-to-be-determined school and coming up with a reworked general obligation bond proposal to put to voters to generate funds for yet more projects. The original $106.5 million bond proposal called for upgrading the Ben Lomond gym, constructing “professional gateway centers” at two junior high schools and rebuilding Polk, Horace Mann and T.O. Smith elementary schools.

Moving forward with both the Ben Lomond project and a new elementary school, with an estimated price tag of $25 million, would require perhaps $45 million worth of lease revenue bonds. Putting another bond proposal to voters, meanwhile, generated only limited discussion, though Heiner noted that lease revenue bonding wouldn’t be enough by itself to cover all the district’s capital needs.

“The question is, is there an appetite for a fiscal year 2018 referendum?” said Zane Woolstenhulme, the district’s business administrator.

As part of Wednesday’s meeting, officials discussed current enrollment at the district’s existing 14 elementary schools. The nine older facilities had a headcount of 3,648 students as of Oct. 1 and, between them, capacity to house much more, 5,185 students in all, even excluding portable structures.

Indeed, the district could shutter two or three schools and, with boundary adjustments, accommodate the existing pool of students in the remaining schools, Nye said. Accordingly, any discussion of rebuilding an elementary school will likely have to be coupled with discussion about closures and school redistricting.

Woolstenhulme said such a debate is needed, regardless of whether a new building is built. “We need to have the discussion about closing the schools,” he said.

Voters last November rejected the district’s bond proposal by a 51-49 margin. Some voiced opposition to rebuilding Polk, citing its historic flourishes, and others worried about the proposal to build larger elementary schools than the existing ones, which they fear would be impersonal.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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