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Moving Dixon Middle School offers advantages, school board members say

By Genelle Pugmire - | Sep 27, 2021

Dixon Middle School was built in 1931. (Courtesy Provo City School District)

Dixon Middle School in Provo was built in 1931, and its 90-year presence in the downtown area of Provo has made it one of the historical icons of the city.

However, just like many other old buildings, it needs either a substantial renovation or a complete rebuild. Concerns of asbestos, plumbing and more could make it a costly endeavor.

At the Sept. 14 Provo Board of Education meeting, board members voted 4-3 to rebuild the middle school somewhere else, rather than renovate.

The new middle school will be built on 21 acres of property owned by the school district just north of the baseball fields at Footprinter Park, 1100 W. 890 South.

Dixon currently sits at 750 West and 200 North on just under 8 acres of land. Modern guidelines for a middle school are to have at least 20 acres, according to board member Jennifer Partridge.

Rendering of the new school that would replace Dixon Middle School to be rebuilt on the Footprinter site. (Courtesy Provo City School District)

Partridge said the Dixon issue has been on the docket long before she became involved.

“I have been studying this issue since I was a member of the Facilities Advisory Committee in 2013, well before my time on the school board,” Partridge said.

Partridge notes there have been several additions to the original building, including one in the 1990s. Only that addition, including the auditorium, is up to current seismic codes. There are a host of other issues with the old building, and independent engineers have ranked the school at a one on a scale of one to five — five being brand new and one needing immediate replacement.

The current location also does not offer bus drop off lanes or place for parents and visitors to park. It has just enough for faculty and staff, according to Partridge.

“If Dixon were on a larger piece of property, I don’t think anyone would have questioned whether we should move the school or not. But given the constraints of the small lot, or both the life of the school and for rebuilding on site, the question was asked,” she said.

Draft concept for Dixon Middle School to be rebuilt on the Footprinter site. (Courtesy Provo City School District)

Partridge said that Dixon has just under 1,000 students. “Whichever location the school is built on, we are designing the new school to hold 1,200 students.”

If built on the current location, the designs indicate it would need to be four stories tall. The Footprinter location shows the new school being on two levels, which is considered safer in the event of evacuations and to care for in case of emergencies.

Melanie Hall, the board president, noted that two bonds have come and gone. Dixon had been dropped from the first bond and the second bond, on the ballot in 2018, failed.

Knowing that a bond might fail, Hall said the school district looked ahead and purchased the property.

“We purchased Footprinter’s property knowing we would need it in the future,” Hall said. “The Facility Advisory Committee like Footprinter’s or Dixon (the current site). They told the board, ‘you figure it out,'” Hall said.

Draft concept for Dixon Middle School to be rebuilt on the existing site of the school. (Courtesy Provo City School District)

Hall noted the passion for keeping Dixon where it is because it has been there for 90 years. However, the Footprinter location is a clean site.

“If we had to expand, there is lots of room,” Hall added.

Partridge also understands why those who live near Dixon are advocating so passionately to keep the school on property.

“If I lived near the middle school my children attend, I would hate to lose that benefit,” Partridge said. “My responsibility as a school board member, as I see it, is to look at this from every angle and then make the decision that I feel is best for the most students and teachers.”

While the vote has already determined the move, those who are desirous to have Dixon stay have talked, in some circles, about trying to get it added as a ballot referendum.

“I’ve heard they are planning on turning in an application,” Hall said. “If they had enough signatures, that would push it back to the November 2023 ballot.”

Noting how construction costs continue to increase, Hall said, “I voted to build a new school because I was elected to be a steward of the voters’ money.”

“It is the right of the people to collect signatures and do the referendum. I think it’s important that our community members understand the ramifications of a referendum so that they can weigh them when deciding whether or not to sign the referendum,” Partridge said. “Waiting a year will delay putting our students in a safe building and it will also lead to increased costs in the project, as construction prices continue to increase.”

“If they do not collect enough signatures within the timeframe, then we will move forward with the rebuild. The plan is to be ready for the spring construction cycle and break ground by next summer,” Partridge added.

The cost to renovate Dixon, though not completely determined, would be much more than to just build a new building, according to Hall.

“Dixon is a middle school, and as such it serves students in half of Provo. I feel strongly that it is in the best interests of our students throughout the boundary now and 50 years into the future to rebuild the school on the larger site,” Partridge added.

“There are a high number of economically disadvantaged students that live near Dixon in its current location. Many people have advocated that we keep the school on site so that they can continue to walk to school,” Partridge said. “I understand and agree that it is a benefit for these students to be in walking distance to school. They can stay after school for activities or to get help from a teacher and then easily get home.”

Those concerned about the historic nature of the main building at Dixon should know the school district does not want to sell the building or the property it sits on.

“We do want to involve the community in making the site a great place. What could that look like? There are many possibilities, including moving some of our programs like Adult Education from portables into a building. Or we could possibly partner with community organizations like Boys & Girls Club,” Partridge said.

Board member McKay Jensen even suggested that the site could be a gem for when Timpanogos Elementary needs to be rebuilt in the future, according to Partridge.

“We are a community. It saddens me the division and contention that has been in Provo the last few years because of this issue,” Partridge said. “We are not going to agree with one another on every issue, and how we handle that disagreement matters.”

“The decision has been made, and I hope that whether it was the one you wanted or not, we can come together to support it and make it the best possible option for our students, teachers and community,” Partridge added.

“It’s time to take care of it now,” Hall said.

As of Friday, an application had not been turned into the district to collect signatures for a referendum. There would need to be 4,000 verified voter names on the petition for it to go for referendum on the November 2023 ballot.

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