Conceptual drawings released as planning continues for new elementary school to be builit by San Juan School District in Blanding

by David Boyle
News Director
Members of the San Juan School Board approved the calendar for the coming year, spoke with local law enforcement about school safety and discussed the new Blanding Elementary school at their latest meeting.
At the December 13 meeting members of the board heard from several public safety officials regarding school safety.
Superintendent Christine Fitzgerald highlighted some of the current initiatives for school safety. 
Among them is a grant from the state to change all access points to schools to key card access for exterior doors. Fitzgerald also highlighted the planned projects to upgrade entryways at four school entryways.
State regulations are also standardizing response protocol across government buildings. Staff are also receiving training on safety protocols.
At the meeting members of the board heard from Blanding Police Chief JJ Bradford, County Sheriff Lehi Lacy and Utah Highway Patrol Sergeant Charlie Taylor.
Chief Bradford gave a report on the new school resource officer in the three Blanding schools. The position is funded in part by school funds and in part by the city. Bradford reported hearing good reports from staff and the community. Bradford shared that Officer Palmer had been involved in 16 cases covering drugs, assault and disorderly conduct. Some of those cases were initiated by bringing in drug dogs, while others were responses to fights or situations in the schools.
When asked Bradford shared they’ve had no complaints and heard only positive things regarding the work in the Blanding schools.
At the meeting members of the commission also heard from Sheriff Lacy regarding a proposed bill that the state legislature will consider. The bill would require an armed school employee on campus whenever school is in session. The bill would require either a state certified officer hired by local law enforcement, a contracted security guard or a school employee that does not work with children regularly, meaning no teachers or principals, to be trained for the role.
The proposal in the bill would see the Sheriff’s office oversee the program.
To the board Lacy says that they support the bill but they are communicating feedback with lawmakers, of particular concern is application on the Navajo Nation. While having the Navajo Nation provide a school resource officer is under consideration, board member Nelson Yellowman said that the Navajo Police already have a manpower shortage. Yellowman added he’d prefer to see San Juan County Sheriff Deputies in the schools in Navajo Nation as they are on trust land islands in the nation.
Jurisdictional issues on the Navajo Nation means that the tribal enrollment status of both criminals and victims can impact whether the sheriff’s department or the tribal police sort out an incident. Because of that officers sometimes detain individuals until the appropriate law enforcement officer can arrive on scene.
At the board meeting Sergeant Taylor spoke to that very issue. Taylor shared that the highway patrol has a working agreement with the tribe to patrol Utah Highways on the Navajo Nation.
Taylor explained that it took years to get an agreement in place, but made it clear that it was not because departments don’t want to work together.
While some administrative issues exist Taylor noted that the highway patrol is able to assist in containing issues on the Navajo Nation. While the Utah Highway Patrol can assist, Taylor notes that many departments often can’t become involved because of risks highlighted by insurance companies with concerns about officer liability.
Taylor added that the best advice he can give to residents who would like to see school resource officers in the River Region is to continue to do what some have been doing, expressing the desire for SRO’s to chapter leaders.
The board thanked the three public safety officials for their reports, and Fitzgerald added the administrative staff will continue to monitor House Bill 61 and its possible impacts on the district.
Members of the board also received a presentation with the latest on the new Blanding Elementary School. 
The board approved the site for the building in June, an undeveloped lot on the southwest corner of 800 N and 100 W. The lot is on the opposite corner of the Blanding Stake Center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 
The district has moved forward with the project in hopes of securing some of the $50 million the state legislature has set aside in a Rural Schools Capital Fund. The district applied for a grant from the fund in November and expects to hear a decision in early 2024. The San Juan School District is one of more than a dozen rural school districts that are eligible to apply for the funds.
The district has been told that the state is looking for shovel ready projects which has helped the district keep a brisk schedule for the construction project.
At the December 13 meeting members of the board heard from Brian Parker of MHTN Architect, Parker shared a presentation similar to one shared at a community workshop with a variety of residents including teachers. 
Parker noted that a known challenge for the site is over 40 feet of slope.
The proposed design would be similar to other recently built elementary schools in the district, making the shape of the letter E laying down, with the Main entrance facing East. The main entrance to the building by the school administrative offices, a kitchen and cafeteria in one corner and a gym in the other with spectator capacity of 600 people on one side. The building will also include three wings leading to classrooms at the ends and one in the middle of the building. Additional different classrooms and multi-use rooms would also be included in the building. Behind the building would be a fenced off play area including hardscape and grass areas as well as locations for playground equipment. Drop-off and parking areas would be located in front of the school.
Parker also shared some inspiration from the aesthetics for the building are drawn from the region drawing inspiration from the mountains, mesas and canyons surrounding the Blanding community.
Board member Merri Shumway shared she had just come from the annual Blanding Elementary Christmas program where the crowding at the school was on display. Shumway asked about the parking spots at the proposed site, the current plan showed 202 parking spots, although Parker shared that one way to lower costs would see a reduction of parking on the north end but even if that happened there would be no less than 160 parking spots.
Shumway also shared concern that the cafeteria and gymnasium have enough space for everyday and special event usage. 
Shumway also expressed concern about an opportunity for public feedback with Business Administrator Tyrel Pemberton sharing the district is working to have a public meeting in January giving an opportunity for public feedback on the school.
Board member Nan Barton shared thanks to the district and hired staff involved in the process, sharing that she’s been involved with community members and teachers that have shared input and felt heard by the design team and district staff.
“I know that you are trying to accommodate a lot of people, Blanding community is a diverse community and there’s a lot of demands for that but thank you.”
During public comment at the meeting members of the board heard from Blanding resident Cheyna Palmer.
Palmer shared that she had commented last year about the need for gym space, and larger facilities including the wrestling room. Palmer noted that the gym doesn’t seem to match up with the size of other 2A sized schools in Utah. Palmer also asked to help facilitate students’ learning at their various academic levels.
Members of the school board approved the academic calendar for the 2024-2025 school year. While three options were presented to the board at the November meeting, members of the board asked that options be presented to parents in a survey. In December District HR Administrator Laura Palmer shared that of the 145 parents surveyed 107 had preferred option 1. That 61.4-percent closely matched the survey results as 62-percent of teachers surveyed also preferred option 1.
The option one format will continue a new format started this year. Teachers will start the school year with two teacher days before students report for the first day, with teacher days implemented before the start of each new quarter and two half-days for Career and College Readiness. The schedule also lines up with the Utah State University spring break schedule.
Members of the board voted five to one to approve the preferred calendar. Shumway explained her vote against the approval was due to the calendar having students return to school after winter break on a Friday as Shumway expressed concern about the number of students that would actually show up to school on that day.
Members of the school board also approved a location change for their January meeting.
In their first meeting in 2024 members of the school board will hold a public hearing related to the districts receiving Federal Impact Aid. Federal Impact Aid are funds from the federal government to replace property tax revenue lost from non-taxable federally managed lands including tribal lands.
Board member Nelson Yellowman asked that the public hearing be held in a River Region school, the last federal impact aid public hearing held at a school was in Monument Valley, members of the board voted to move the January meeting to Whitehorse High School.
Members of the board also approved a request to allow the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program to survey students. The school district requires the board to approve all surveys given to students. 
Members of the board also received an audit report for 2023, and heard reports from the principals at the two schools in Monument Valley.
The board also recognized two employees with a San Juan Sweet Jobs Award. Both Jody Lee-Chadde at Tse’bii’nidzisgai Elementary School and Lahoma Cly from Monument Valley High School were recognized for their work in the schools.

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