Remodel Polk Elementary, or tear it down and start over?
OGDEN, Utah – Renovate and upgrade the old school, or tear it down and start over? Those are the choices Ogden School District faces with Polk Elementary School which opened for classes nearly 90 years ago.
Two recent engineering reports show a tough decision needs to be made.
Two engineering firms hired by Ogden School District conclude in their surveys of the school that there are significant problems with the structure of Polk Elementary, and it could not withstand an earthquake. Many Utah school districts face similar dilemmas.
“It was a lovely school. But, what does a child know?” said Judith Mitchell who attended Polk Elementary in the early 1940s, and sent three kids here.
She believes Polk Elementary should be saved.
“That doesn’t mean that we don’t upgrade, or that we don’t add to it in a way that is complementary. We want to do that,” she said. “But we’re always ripping stuff down. They need to do what they have to do to make sure that it is seismically safe for the children. I certainly don’t disagree with that but, we can build up in a way they could be complementary.”
Josh Crowton agrees. His parents and grandparents went to school at Polk, and so do his kids. It’s part of his neighborhood.
“Preserve the feel of a neighborhood walkable school,” he said. “Not a lot of places have that. So let’s keep it. Let’s keep it unique to this area.”
“It’s a neighborhood feel,” he said . “You aren’t lost in the shuffle. People know each other. Kids are in small classes. Preserve something beautiful and historic, and add on something that matches it well, but still gives you the workable flow you’re after.”
The engineering reports show the cost to rebuild, and the cost to renovate and seismically upgrade would be similar, about $18 million. But, the school district says renovating would force them to revisit the issue in another 20 years, which they wouldn’t have to do with a new school.
“The greater cost value for their tax dollars is to rebuild. There is absolutely no question of that,” said Jer Bates, a spokesperson for the school district.
But, that does not take into account the love for the school in the neighborhood, and throughout Ogden
“I do think they need to go to the community and see what the community wants,” said Connie Cox, with the Weber County Heritage Foundation. She also taught in Ogden Schools 35 years. “It’s a value judgment when it comes right down to it.”
Some want their tax dollars used for preserving and upgrading. Another parent I spoke with says the priority should be safety and better learning spaces for kids and teachers. Preserving the old building would be nice, she said, but not at the expense of making classrooms larger and more functional, and improving earthquake safety.
School improvements here were part of a bond last fall, which voters rejected.
”It is a very passionate issue, and I understand that.“ said Bates. “Our Board of Education and our school district are really trying to be very responsible about any decisions that are made in the community.“
There are other critical issues the district must consider, he said. Elementary enrollment in Ogden is declining, and operating 14 elementary schools may no longer be viable. In addition, nine of those schools are in need of serious upgrades or replacement, Bates said.
“So, we’re trying to factor in both of those two things as part of a district wide and city wide picture or puzzle, that we’re trying to put together. This neighborhood is one important piece.”
The school district is working on putting together a bond committee that will come up with a proposal for the community to vote on.
“There’s still no final determination that’s been made,” said Bates. “We want our public to be engaged, and we want them to understand that no decisions have been made, and any decisions that do get made will incorporate public feedback.”
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