A possible rebuild of Dixon Middle School, and the decision to relocate the school, will come before the Provo City School District Board of Education five years after the topic was last addressed.
Dixon Middle School was pushed off the district’s 2014 bond to make way for the rebuild of Provo High School, but will likely be included on a potential bond the district’s Board of Education could vote on later this month.
“Overall, it is not an efficient building on any level, from seismic concerns to mechanical operations,” said Mark Wheeler, the district’s director of facilities. “It has reached a point it needs to be rebuilt and replaced.”
The question the board is faced with is where the school will be rebuilt. A rebuild at the school’s current site at 750 W. 200 North is estimated to cost $10 million more than rebuilding the site at a new location, although members of a group fighting a potential relocation have argued a move would cause a longer and less safe walk to school for students and that moving the school would impact the area’s sense of community.
The original portion of Dixon Middle School opened in 1931. The school has seen multiple additions since then, including portions built in the 1960s that have seismic concerns due to the weight of that section’s roof.
A historic preservation feasibility study on Dixon Middle school from the architecture firm CRSA, obtained from the school district through a freedom of information request, identified two options for keeping the school on site. One would include remodeling the 1931 portion of the school, demolishing the school’s other additions and building a new middle school on site. Another option included remodeling the current school.
The study identified many challenges with the second option.
“Even though a complete remodel of all existing facilities would be a significant improvement there are so many parts of the building that would be inaccessible and not improved,” the study reads. “Additionally, there are significant logistical challenges, and maintaining the school’s operation during the remodel would be virtually impossible.”
The 1931 part of Dixon Middle School could be used for the district’s administrative offices after being renovated.
The district has received multiple options on the potential rebuild from consultants over the last several years. Wheeler said the consultants were asked if it’s possible to rebuild on the site and preserve the historic 1931 portion of the building. The district received about 20 options per suggestion. Wheeler said the consultants were asked to offer options, but not answer the question of if the school should be relocated.
The district then brought the options to people who have worked in the building for decades to offer their suggestions and opinions. Wheeler said the district took the consultants’ cost estimates and added on cost due to what they had heard from those inside the building and other costs the district knew would come, such as an estimated $2 million to bring in, use and remove portable classrooms for construction.
The district is considering two options for Dixon Middle School, one that would rebuild the school on its current site, renovating the 1931 part of the old building and constructing a 130,000-square-foot new school for $65 million, or a second plan that would build a 150,000-square-foot new school on a new site for $55 million.
The school could be relocated to the area of 890 South near Footprinter Park, where the district owns about 20 acres after a recent land purchase. Wheeler said the purchase was a good move for the district regardless of whether Dixon Middle School will be moved there or not due to projected growth in west Provo.
The board has not announced yet whether it plans to move the school.
“From Superintendent Rittel to every board member, I can’t tell you how much time they’ve spent in discussions looking at variables and options of what would be best for the Dixon neighborhood long term, from a community center to a district building to a future elementary,” Wheeler said. “They have spent a lot of time listening to the neighborhoods because they understand the significance of keeping a presence in that neighborhood.”
Wheeler said moving to a new site has benefits, including cost efficiency, an access to a new parkway along 1100 West and the potential to grow on the site.
The current Dixon Middle School site is 8.25 acres, about half the size of current school sites.
Rebuilding on the school’s current site could be an issue due to its size.
“The smaller the space, the higher the risk for the contractors and design consultants,” Wheeler said. “Your price goes up because they cushion everything that they bid for you with a safety factor.”
Wheeler said there’s been steps taken by the city and developers on Provo’s west side to develop the area. He said two road extensions are under construction and further infrastructure is planned.
If 890 South is widened, Wheeler said the required land would be from district property and no private property would be disturbed. Preserving the 1931 structure and demolishing its newer additions is expected to be a difficult process.
“We would have to surgically demolish everything around that 1931 portion and cross our fingers that nobody moves a piece of equipment in the wrong direction at the wrong time to damage that 1931 structure,” Wheeler said.
The school board is anticipated to vote on the price and scope of the bond, including if Dixon Middle School would move, on April 23. Depending on the bond’s scope, its cost could be between $165 million and $255 million.
Projects on a potential bond could include Dixon Middle School, some form of a rebuild at Timpview High School, a rebuild of Wasatch Elementary School and an addition at Westridge Elementary School.
If approved, the bond would appear on the November ballot for Provo voters.
The district has also created an online survey at http://provo.edu/news/proposed-bond-survey to gather additional community input.
More than 575 people have signed an online petition to keep Dixon Middle School at its current site, as of Thursday evening. An online fundraising campaign that would either support or oppose a potential bond depending on if Dixon Middle School would be moved has raised $300.
Mary Wade, who lives near the school and opposes a potential move, created the online petition as a way to show community support for keeping the school in the Dixon Neighborhood.
She said the lunch celebration will show the school’s importance in its neighborhood.
“We really wanted to give people the opportunity to celebrate what an anchor Dixon has been in our neighborhood for years,” Wade said.
She said the group opposing a potential move has been going door to door in the community to hand out flyers and speak to residents about the upcoming vote. Wade said she’s translated the flyers into Spanish, as well, in order to reach the Spanish-speaking community.
Wade said the school’s downtown location serves the entire city and helps with the revitalization of downtown Provo.
“The health of the community, and as a result, the health of our broader city depends on, in part, Dixon staying in Dixon,” Wade said.