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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking at the Facility Needs for Emerson and Davis High School

There were a lot of strange looks at the Facilities Masterplan introduced back on December 18 to the Davis School Board. The ultimate price for the long and exhaustive wish list was $200 million. Some asked what the value of such a pie-in-the-sky masterplan was, and they would be right to a certain extent. However forgotten there is the fact that this the beginning of the process, not the end of the process of developing a masterplan. Everything possible is now on the table and now begins the process of winnowing down to a workable and realistic plan.

There were two projects however that are not going to wait that long. The highest priority project right now is the track and football field at the Davis High School. Second on the list is upgrades to Emerson Junior High School.

The costs for these projects are considerable, their need is great however.

The school board put the Track and Field as the highest priority. Some in West Davis are undoubtedly groaning. However, there is a logic here that needs to be understood. You get a sense of it watching the presentation on the state of the field. I got a sense of it talking to a few high school students who use the field as well. Basically it is a big safety hazard in several different ways.

The two biggest are the condition of the track itself which makes for treacherous footing and has resulted in numerous injuries. Also the condition of the stands is very dangerous and has also caused numerous injuries. In short, it is a safety hazard and a huge liability for the school district.

The changes needed at Emerson fall into the code compliance category. I'm not going to say they are aren't potential safety hazards but they are not immediate safety hazards. Moreover, according to the consultant the need to make these upgrades is not as immediate. What he told the board was that until the school district has to work on these facilities, they do not need to make the upgrades. Once they work on the facility they would have to upgrade it. That gives the district some time to play with.

The basic hope is that some of the money needed to upgrade the track and field complex at the high school can be raised privately through the Blue and White Foundation. At the meeting, Foundation president Michael McDermott said that the Foundation has raised about $200,000 and has pledges for another $100,000, numbers paled of course by the $5 to $10 million project.

The school district does not have much money in their facilities fund. They basically used the rest of it to complete the King High construction. The $4.5 million that the district got from Montgomery went to pay off the bond they took out for King High when the district discovered that they were lacking the money they thought they had for the project.

There is expressed concern that this means that Emerson will close. There have certainly been rumors to that effect. However, the most important thing that came to light during the meeting on December 18 is the fact that really, Emerson's needs are not huge safety concerns. Emerson according to what we heard and what Board Member Tim Taylor said is not suffering from deteriorating conditions to its buildings. What it needs is to become code compliant and that is something that is neither an immediate need nor urgent.

Moreover, all five board member expressed some form of support for Emerson, it is just they all recognized that the safety hazards of the high school track push that need to front.

As mentioned previous Mr. Taylor dismissed concerns about deteriorating conditions at Emerson as not borne out by surveys by district architects. Board President Gina Daleiden said that the projects are not mutually exclusive. Sheila Allen emphasized the importance of the academic program and facilities at Emerson. Susan Lovenburg wants the planning for a modernization of Emerson to be further fleshed out.

She said:
"I'd like to see some phased-in approaches to Emerson' as well as 'some exploration of different types of programs that could attract additional funding from state, federal and private sources."
In short, as I have been stating all along here, I do not think people at Emerson have all that much to worry about assuming that the district can find ways to remain in the black. The most important asset that Emerson has going for it right now is geography, the logistics of closing it would be considerable.

So while DHS has been pushed up to the front, Emerson seems in good stead.

---David M. Greenwald reporting