Provo hosts tours of Timpview to address structural concerns 02

Jennifer Partridge, a board member of Provo City School District, points out cracks in an exterior wall during a public tour of Timpview High School to address the structural concerns of the building Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

A lot of emotion and controversy surrounds the Provo bond proposal that will appear on Provo City School District members’ ballot this November. Understandably so! The total bond is for $245 million, which will have a significant impact on taxpayers’ wallets.

But on the other hand, the sky is falling at Timpview High — literally, a piece of masonry fell through the media center’s ceiling tiles. Children’s safety is at stake at Timpview and several other schools deemed in need of rebuilds, extensions or safety upgrades by professionals providing reports to the school board in the last decade.

So, ultimately what’s more important to the area’s voters? Money or children’s safety? Because that’s what it comes down to when you take emotion out of the question. Sure, there are many other factors worthy of arguments, but money and safety are the two heavyweights in this situation. After recently sitting with members of the Provo City School District Board of Education to discuss the issue, this editorial board’s opinion is that children’s safety is worth the price.

It’s unfortunate that so many individually needed school rebuilds and updates are hitting the area’s taxpayers all at once. They’re definitely feeling the hit, and we sympathize with them — as residents we feel them too.

But we believe that if voters separated themselves from the current drama surrounding the issue and looked at the reality of the situation and the hefty research that has gone into creating the bond, they would agree with us. So, let’s go over the basics of the situation.

The bond is broken down into the following:

$145 million for a 91% rebuild of Timpview at its current site.

$55 million for a rebuild of Dixon Middle School.

$30 million for a rebuild of Wasatch Elementary School.

$10 million for an extension on Westridge Elementary School.

$5 million for safety upgrades on most of the older schools in the district.

Who made the determination to add these items to the bond? Well, it wasn’t just the school board members, who have been facing an assault of hellfire recently. It was actually a 40-member Facilities Advisory Committee comprised of parents and individuals from all the district’s elementary schools. The committee inspected the district schools, solicited advice from professionals, including engineers and architects, among other things. They found that at Timpview major structural problems are being caused by both long-term and recent accelerated movement of clay soil underneath the school.

Here’s a sample of some of the experts’ feedback: Dynamic Structures Structural Assessment said, “The likelihood of falling hazards happening in the future is high. It is a game of roulette as to whether or not a student or faculty member is eventually injured.” And Brian Nelson, the state risk manager, said, “Given what the district knows, it should make every effort to eliminate promptly the structural threats that are present at Timpview High School.”

The committee unanimously recommended to the board that the problems at the main four schools need to be addressed. The school board then unanimously voted to add all the items to the bond.

While the bond comes with a hefty price tag, several professionals have actually predicted this bond will be the most fiscally conservative option for taxpayers in the long run (while not letting school buildings fall apart around their children, of course).

The board considered several other options that would have been cheaper upfront but would have then caused increased costs on taxpayers over time. One of their main considerations was just making fixes and upkeeping the high school over the next decade or so. But after a while, those Band-Aids won’t work anymore, and all the money put into them will be destroyed when the school is then torn down.

Yes, the recent Provo High rebuild was only $80 million; the main two reasons for Timpview’s higher price are that Timpview is being rebuilt in the same spot while regular classes continue, and because of construction inflation.

A few of our own questions for the school board were, “Why not reduce the bond price by rebuilding Timpview on another spot of land?” and “Why even rebuild on Timpview’s current spot if the soil underneath is a problem?”

We learned that it’s not just the soil causing the problem — it’s also the less-educated engineering techniques from the ’70s when the school was initially built. Nowadays, engineers and construction crews know modern building techniques that can overcome the challenges posed by the current site, including structural pier systems.

We also learned that the board has looked high and low for a workable 30-40 acre site within Timpview boundaries that wouldn’t force them to utilize eminent domain, and have had no success.

The second most heated topic on the bond is the rebuild of Dixon Middle School in a different part of town. We’ll be short and sweet with our rebuttal to those arguing against the rebuild: The school currently sits on a puny 7 acres, when the recommended space for a middle school is about 20-29 acres. This puts the school at a huge disadvantage as they simply don’t have enough space for adequate P.E. classes, arts programs, bus areas and more. Also, the original sections of Dixon are 88 years old. Many aspects of the building are outdated and inefficient, and it doesn’t meet the modern seismic code or other safety codes.

The rebuild on the new site is about 20 acres, $10 million cheaper than rebuilding in the current spot, and will only take two years instead of three and a half. Also, moving Dixon will actually increase the number of students who can walk or ride their bikes to school. Yes, the community surrounding the current middle school could see disadvantages to the move, but in our eyes, and the board’s, the pros outweigh the cons. Relocating it is a more fiscally sound decision and allows for greater equity for Dixon students by giving them space, resources and facilities that actually mirror other district students.

Our editorial board will always encourage citizens to go out and vote in local elections no matter what their opinions are. This year, we add on a further push for voters within the Provo City School District to consider voting yes for the Provo school bond — it’s the best choice for children and school workers’ safety and for overall fiscal responsibility in the long run.