School Board balks at Helper JHS land purchase
Despite months of preparation and months of negotiations with property owners in north Helper, the Carbon County School Board has voted down the idea of purchasing land for a new junior high school in a 3-2 decision.
While many had taken the purchase for granted, issues raised at a work meeting and later public session persuaded the majority to abandon the idea.
First, was a concern that the land is not stable enough to support the proposed structure.
"What it came down to was a soils report," said Carbon School District Superintendent Steve Carlsen on Monday morning. "We had an architectural firm look at the soils there and the speculation was that with a two story building of 50-70,000 square feet, during construction soil would need to be removed and the base improved. To remove that silty dirt and put fill in would add a million dollars to the cost."
Carlsen also said that the firm reported that same weak dirt base could have caused problems for the parking lot as well.
Some of the board members had discussed the soil situation with current and former county officials who were involved in the building of the Carbon County Senior Center, which had similar soil composition problems. Their imparted experience was one of the factors in the discussion and subsequent decision.
A second concern was also raised during the day-long work session. There are many power lines running through the area, some with very high capacity. Health concerns about the lines and how they could affect those in the building were also discussed.
The superintendent mentioned that the school district was getting ready to retire a few bonds in a couple of years, and that the timing for putting new bonds up for the property and a new school would work well.
"We could possibly propose it without people seeing their taxes go up," said Carlsen.
However, for now the district is in a holding pattern, studying other options.
Other pieces of property have been mentioned including one in east Helper and possibly one along Highway 6. The second would require that all students be bused to the school. About half of the students who attend the school now walk to the facility.
"We are in a fact-finding mode now," said Carlsen. "There are a number of considerations we need to look at, including building configurations."
This could mean looking to change the way the district does building organization. Many school districts have middle schools that have sixth through eighth grade in them and then ninth graders attend high school. This is often what school districts do when they have a "bulge" in their student population. But the problem at Helper Junior High isn't overcrowding like it presently is at the two Price elementary schools, but the fact the building is almost 80 years old. It is unreinforced concrete, which could be a problem during an earthquake.
There have been thoughts about rebuilding the school on site as well, but parking has always been a problem at the school, especially when events are going on. That wouldn't change with a rebuild.
"The fact is we will have to decide what to do with Helper Junior High at some point," said board member Jeff Richens when interviewed last week.
In the board vote Kristen Taylor, Lee McCourt and Melanie Fausett voted against the purchase while Richens and Board President Wayne Woodward voted for it.