San Juan School Board talks trust lands, fee waivers and capital plans

The San Juan School Board sent a letter to the state trust land administration, talked about fee waivers for students, and discussed plans for district buildings at their February meeting.

Members of the school board met on February 9 where, for the second month in a row, they discussed fee waivers and spend plans/program sustainability fees.

The fees to sustain activities in the district, as well as the maximum out-of-pocket spend plans, will be approved at the March board meeting, ahead of the required April 1 state deadline.

The spend plans outline the maximum out-of-pocket cost that parents would pay for their students to participate in activities, including sports, music, and drama.

In addition to spend plans, the board is also considering their approval of program sustainability fees that are required for students to participate in activities.

On the board list for consideration is the addition of a new activity, ESports.

Electronic Sports revolve around participants competing against each other in video games. Albert R. Lyman Middle School, San Juan, and Whitehorse high schools have introduced ESports to the district.

In the January board meeting, Superintendent Ron Nielson explained that administration from those schools have reported success in increasing student participation.

“There’s a lot of positive feeling from our administration in our schools that the ESports club has been a great opportunity for some students that have not found an area to participate in traditionally,” said Nielson. "…This has been a perfect fit for them.”

Participation in school programs is made available to low-income students through a fee-waiver program. Families who qualify through an application have required fees and expenses covered by the district, including covering meals for students while traveling.

At their February 8 meeting, members of the school board also approved a letter to the Utah State Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).

The letter asked that SITLA avoid trading state trust lands located into San Juan County for land elsewhere in Utah.

When Utah received statehood in 1896, parcels of land called trust land were placed evenly throughout Utah. Revenue earned from the sale or lease of those lands is earmarked for funding of public education.

With the creation of Bears Ears National Monument, SITLa has some 135,000 acres of trust lands located within the monument that have a reduced opportunity for development and revenue.

In an effort to follow their Utah Constitutional mandate, SITLA proposes the exchange of their land within Bears Ears with other land owned by the Federal Government in the State of Utah.

Members of the San Juan School Board approved a letter to SITLA requesting that those lands exchanged remain in San Juan County, rather than moved to other areas of the state.

The letter reads in part: “The SJSD Board feels strongly that when Trust Lands are traded out of San Juan County, potential economic growth and future employment opportunities for the citizens of the county are forfeited, negatively impacting the local tax base which supports our schools and communities.”

The letter was approved unanimously by the board.

At the meeting, the San Juan School Board also began preliminary conversations regarding the prioritization of capital projects within the district.

School District Business Administrator Tyrel Pemberton did not recommend any particular projects be prioritized but district staff outlined some building projects that need to be addressed in future plans.

Among priorities included Blanding Elementary School, Albert R Lyman (ARL) Middle School, La Sal Elementary, and district offices. Other remodel projects are suggested at older schools in the district.

Using a very rough estimate of $300 per square foot for new office space and $450 per square foot for new schools, District Building Specialist Tom Corraro provided a very general cost template for the board to have a view of the projects.

The 67-year old Blanding Elementary School serves 552 average students per day, the most of any building in the district.

Constructing a new building would cost an estimated $35 million, while another option would include $10 million for needed renovations plus $1.5 million for HVAC updates.

District staff also foresee significant needs for the 62-year-old Albert R. Lyman Middle School, with $11.5 million in recommended renovations and HVAC replacement for the future.

Staff reports ARL has not seen a major renovation in many years, with the HVAC System and boiler reportedly in major need. The district staff recommends an eventual remodel to increase the functionality and safety of the building.

In capital discussions seven years ago, the district recommended future renovation for ARL but a new school could be considered as well.

A new school is also in consideration to replace the smallest and oldest school in the district. Serving an average population of 13 people per day, staff reports that the 7,000 square foot La Sal Elementary school is outdated and requires major changes.

Renovations were not recommended for the 82-year-old building, but there is a variance in what replacing the new school may cost.

With Spanish Valley anticipated to grow quickly in the future, district staff is uncertain whether to plan for a nicer or a minimalist facility for La Sal. The current populated area in Spanish Valley is in the Grand School District but the area may grow dramatically with the development of SITLA properties in Spanish Valley.

Also under consideration is the oldest structure in the district. Staff recommends that the School District Office, located in a 92-year old building, needs $1.3 million for a new boiler, HVAC, and water lines, or $7 million for a new facility.

Other district office needs include $2.4 million for a new maintenance facility, $1.8 million for a new transportation facility, $1.6 million for a new technology facility, and $800,000 for a new media facility.

Other capital needs from the staff include remodels to adjust entryways and front offices at Montezuma Creek Elementary, as well as at San Juan and Monticello high schools at an estimated cost of $3.5-$4 million each, and $4 million for a new auxiliary gym at San Juan High.

Prioritization of these or other capital projects is up to the school board. Members of the board and Nielson indicated that finalizing capital projects prioritization will likely be established over the next several months.

San Juan Record

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