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Alpine, North Sanpete districts seek bonds to counter ailing schools, growth

Published: Thursday, Nov. 3 2011 5:56 p.m. MDT

ALPINE — Two Utah school districts are asking taxpayers to approve millions of dollars in bonds this election season to raise money for building projects.

The Alpine School Board is asking voters to approve a $210 million, 15-year bond in order to address rapid enrollment growth within the district as well as seismic concerns. If approved by voters on Nov. 8, the Alpine bond would be phased in over five years. The highest property tax increase would equal out to about $36 on a $224,500 home — the median home value in the district — or about $3 a month.

Meanwhile, North Sanpete District is seeking $18 million to address schools full beyond capacity and those in need of repair. That bond would work out to an $83 annual increase on a $150,000 home, or about $7 a month.

In 2005, Alpine anticipated nearly 10,000 additional students would enter the school system by 2011. Actual enrollment increased by 11,300, bringing the district's total enrollment to more than 68,000 students, and the district projects an additional 10,000 will be added in the next five years.

The Alpine bond would pay for four new elementary schools in yet-to-be determined locations, a new high school in Lehi and a new middle school in Eagle Mountain.

"The first priority on this next bond is another middle school out west," said Rhonda Bromley, district spokeswoman.

Vista Heights Middle, which opened in Saratoga Springs last year, has only housed seventh and eighth graders due to rapid growth in the area. Ninth-graders have attended a nearby high school, since Vista Heights was at capacity with just the two grades.

Bromley said growth is only one reason for the new bond. Aging buildings with seismic and other infrastructure issues also need attention. 

"Growth is part of it, but it's certainly not all of it," Bromley said. "A lot of the projects on this bond are renovations and repairs."

Those planned repairs include renovations on nine schools built before 1970. Alpine voters approved a $200 million bond in 2001 and a $230 million bond in 2006. Combined, the two previous bonds funded the construction of 15 new elementary schools, three new middle schools, one new high school, one high school rebuild and 46 renovation projects.

Bromley said the Alpine School Board is debt-averse, and has promised residents it will work to pay down the old and new loans as quickly as possible.

"Every single member of our board agrees that the ultimate, overall goal is to be out of debt," she said.

North Sanpete is looking to rebuild Mt. Pleasant Elementary, which is aging and in need of sweeping repairs, in addition to making additions to North Sanpete High and Moroni Elementary.

The last time the district went out for bonds for building projects was in 1995, according to the district. Board members see current low interest rates and low construction prices as an opportunity to make improvements.

The Utah Taxpayers Association hasn't taken a position on either of the bonds, though it did take issue with Alpine's proposal to include weight room additions at Lone Peak and Mt. Timpanogos as excessive.

"With taxpayers struggling to emerge from the Great Recession, these projects are better described as 'nice to haves' than necessities," according to the organization's October newsletter.

The association did say the district has taken a conservative approach, and it values the district's decision to hold the bond election during the November election when more voters turn out rather than the June election.

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com, Twitter: mollyfarmer

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