Canyons to put bond on ballot

Education » Board members will ask voters to OK $250 million to build new schools, upgrade old ones.
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Voters who opted to create Utah's newest school district will be asked whether they want to dole out $250 million to build new schools and update old ones.

On Tuesday, the Canyons School District Board of Education unanimously voted to pursue placing a $250 million bond on the June 22 ballot.

And district officials say the money can be raised without a tax hike. Instead, residents of the district, which covers Cottonwood Heights, Sandy, Midvale, Draper and Alta, would forgo an expected decrease in taxes during the next 20 years.

Canyons district, which celebrates its first birthday in July, has $650 million worth of needed building repairs or replacements, according to recent architectural survey. Many buildings, including Midvale, Butler, Edgemont and Alta View elementary schools were given "D" grades for their ability to withstand an earthquake.

"We all know that at any time that [Wasatch Front] fault could slip," said board member Mont Millerberg. "I would rather answer hard questions now about why we have to go out for a bond than answer hard questions after an earthquake about why we did not go out for a bond."

If voters approve the $250 million bond, it would be used to build a new high school in Draper -- the district's fifth -- and cover the rebuild or renovation of 12 other schools. Five projects would begin this fall with the others to follow over the next five years.

"This has dirt turning in every corner of our district," Tracy Cowdell, president of the board said.

The Canyons board will hold a public hearing on the bond May 4 before officially placing the issue before voters June 22, the day of primary elections.

At Tuesday's meeting, Midvale resident Patty Christensen questioned the wisdom of saddling taxpayers with a new debt.

"I just don't think that a $250 million bond -- which is an awful lot of money -- is necessary for a district this new," she said. "I, as a taxpayer, am a little bit tired of my grandchildren's children's money being spent."

Christensen noted that proponents of the 2007 vote that carved Canyons out of Jordan School District touted future tax savings.

But another impetus for the break up, board member Kevin Cromar noted, was the ability to direct cash toward aging east-side school houses. With the bond money, 60-year-old Midvale Elementary, which has never undergone a significant renovation, can finally be rebuilt, along with several others.

"This is one of the main reasons why people voted for the split," Cromar said. "Tonight is a very historic night for Canyons School District."

Building a new Draper high school would allow Canyons to launch its plan to reconfigure high schools to include ninth grade. The district hopes the change would give freshmen students better preparation for college, including access to elective courses and extracurricular activities.

Deanna Lambson, who will be PTA president for Albion Middle next year, said she's leaning toward supporting the bond, but she wants to learn more about it.

She's pleased that Albion is slated to receive $18.5 million to install air conditioning and fix an open-classroom layout that hinders students' ability to escape in an emergency.

On hot days, the classrooms are "sweltering," she said. "It's over 90 degrees. It's just really hard to learn when it is physically exhausting."

The wish list

Projects that would start this fall if Canyons voters approve a $250 million bond:

New high school in Draper » $50 million

Rebuild Butler Middle School » $30.7 million

Renovate Albion Middle School » $18.5 million

Rebuild Midvale Elementary » $16.8 million

Seismic upgrades at Sandy Elementary » $1.7 million