School District begins planning for building needs

Finalizing program spend plans and sustainability fees, an update from the Utah state legislature, and when to build and how to fund a new Blanding Elementary School were all part of items discussed at the latest meeting of the San Juan School Board.
Members of the San Juan School board finalized fee waivers and spend plans/program sustainability fees ahead of the April 1 state deadline at their meeting on March 9.
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 also approved program sustainability fees that are required for students to participate in activities.
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.
Among changes to the plan from last year include a ten percent increase to the sustainability fees, the addition of ESports to the fee schedule for active programs at ARL, San Juan and Whitehorse High, and an increase of the meal allowance from $10 to $12.
The board also emphasized the district stance that senior gifts, team shoes and cleats should not be included in any programs spend plans.
At the meeting, the San Juan School Board also continued conversations regarding the prioritization of capital projects within the district.
In the recent past, the district has been able to save capital budget funds to build new buildings including Monticello, Bluff, and Tse'Bii'Nidzisgai Elementary schools in the past 15 years.
The central question for the board is how to prioritize buildings over the next 15 years with choices between a new Blanding Elementary School, safety remodels at other schools and district needs, or a bond to try and cover both.
School District Business Administrator Tyrel Pemberton laid out the current state of capital funds for the district.
Annually the district generally receives $2 million in federal funds, $1.8 million in local funds, and $800,000 from the state for a total of $4.6 million for capital building needs.
A report from the district staff shows that after spending for ongoing expenses, the district can save about $3.14 million a year toward the capital budget. Right now the capital building account includes $23 million saved for needed projects.
Additional state legislation could see more one-time funding become available. HB 475 makes $50 million in one-time small school critical capital needs available to the least populated counties in Utah. The district anticipates receiving $800,000 from the state from this bill.
The district has outlined several building needs, including 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.
The most expensive item on the list would be $35 million for a new Blanding Elementary School, although a previous document from the district showed an option of a $10 million renovation plus $1.5 million for HVAC updates as an option at the school.
The 67-year old Blanding Elementary School serves 552 average students per day, the most of any building in the district. The building is also the most crowded in the district per square foot.
Two documents from district staff showed at the current rate it could be a long time until a new Blanding Elementary School is built. 
One document showed the Fiscal year 2032 as the earliest build date if the district did not address any other capital needs. School board member Steven Black pointed out that the document included a rate of inflation for the cost of the building but did not add inflation for revenue. If neither inflated, the soonest the school could be built without any other district projects is 2027. 
If the district prioritizes the other capital needs, and the rate of construction inflation matches the rate of revenue inflation, the elementary school could be built in 2039.
But if the district model of building inflation with no inflation of revenue were to continue, the building would be built sometime in the 2050’s.
Superintendent Ron Nielson noted the cost of a new Blanding Elementary school is an obstacle.
“With ongoing needs it's tricky, it's a real challenge,” said Nielson.
"Seven years ago, the board went through a similar process. This is very similar to a spreadsheet that they were looking at back then and a comment made in that meeting was that Blanding Elementary School has to be (ranked) either first or last.”
Nielson noted that district staff would explore other options, including a bond or partial bond for the school. 
District staff also presented a plan for other capital needs in the district, including the proposed year for each project.
Needs include remodels to increase the functionality and safety of schools in the district. That includes $10 million in renovations for ARL (proposed for fiscal year 2027), and $4 million each for Montezuma Creek Elementary (‘25), Monticello High (‘29), and San Juan High (‘29).
Another $4 million is recommended for a new La Sal Elementary school to replace the 82-year old building (‘31).
Also under consideration is the oldest structure in the district. Staff recommends that the School District Office, located in a 92-year old building in Blanding, needs $1.3 million for a new boiler, HVAC, and water lines, or $7 million for a new facility (‘35).
Other district office needs include $2.4 million for a new maintenance facility (‘33), $1.8 million for a new transportation facility (‘23), $1.6 million for a new technology facility (‘33), and $800,000 for a new media facility (‘33).
Another item that was on the district list in February, but was not on the March list, is a new gym for San Juan High School.
School board member Merri Shumway stated that she has received more feedback on the gym’s inability to accommodate crowds than any other topic in the past few years.
Recently constructed district elementary schools have included an auxiliary gym for elementary students during the day, with the buildings getting used by older students and community members in the evenings.
Shumway asked to explore a different model for Blanding, with the elementary school possibly getting a smaller PE room, and funds used to replace or build a new gym for San Juan High.
A February 2022 document from the district estimated it would cost $4 million for a new gym for San Juan High School.
Prioritization of these or other capital projects is up to the school board. Finalizing capital projects prioritization will likely be established over the next several months.
The district also received an update on bills passed during the state legislative session that may impact their work.
Among bills passed included a one-time appropriation for capital expenditure project from HB 475. As reported above, the district anticipates receiving $800,000 for building projects.
Nielson reported other bills passed included HB 374, known as the sensitive curriculum bill. The bill creates a state committee to identify sensitive materials, defined as pornographic or indecent, that they will not allow to be in schools. 
The district is awaiting further clarification regarding how to include local parents for determining whether an instructional material is sensitive.
Another bill passed, HB 162, will require free feminine hygiene products be available in schools. While the Larry H Miller Family Foundation has pledged to provide dispensers in school bathrooms, the district will need to cover the expense for the materials moving forward.
SB 192 also passed requiring that CPR be taught in schools. The training will likely be folded into health curriculums.
HB 30 also passed, which allows tribal regalia to be worn by Indigenious students at graduation ceremonies. The bill was a result of an incident in Cedar City last year where a student was told they could not wear a traditional headdress.
Nielson reports celebrating the culture of graduating students has long been encouraged in the San Juan School District.
Another bill, HB 11, banning transgender girls from participating in school sports was passed by the legislature. Utah Governor Spencer Cox has indicated he will veto the bill.

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