The Salt Lake Board of Education may ask voters as early as spring if they want to spend more than $100 million to make their schools safer in earthquakes.
That is one option the board is considering in its onging investigation of ways to upgrade the district's seismic safety. The district has estimated it will take $68 million to make its three high schools and five intermediate schools more earthquake resistant and $39 million more to correct deficiencies in its 27 elementary schools.The proposal calls for the high schools, intermediate schools and two worst elementary schools to be modified first. The other 25 elementaries won't be repaired until the second half of the 19- to 25-year project.
However, Harmer says, the district plans to begin the first phase of the "seismic tie-down" in elementary schools with its 1991-92 budget. The "tie-down" includes such things as bolting filing cabinets to the wall, tying hanging lights into the building's frame and securing bookcases that could fall and injure a child during an earthquake.
The "tie-down" was supposed to begin this year, but the board backed off and gave the $600,000 allotted for the project to two elementary schools that wanted to expand their libraries.
The board has not taken any action on the new financing proposal, but it will discuss it Dec. 18.
One problem facing the board is how far to go in its recommendations. This will be the last session for the current seven-member board, which will lose three veteran members Jan. 1. Any decision made by the current board is not binding on the new board, which will hold its first meeting Jan. 8. Board members, who debated last week what action to take, plan to make a philosophical statement on Dec. 18, pointing out the schools' seismic problems and making a stand for the safety of children. Board members may or may not agree on a course of action. They have asked the district staff to come back with recommendations but didn't say whether they will use them to push the new board in a specific direction.
The board, however, has agreed to trench along 1300 East across from East High School. The staff has proposed demolishing East's 78-year-old classroom wing and rebuilding it on the east side of 1300 East. The trenches will be used by geotechnical experts to look for faults.
Proposed financing options
- Ask voters in a referendum election, which by law must be held by May 2, to approve an increase in property taxes to rebuild or retrofit the district's 35 schools. Business administrator W. Gary Harmer says that if voters approve the referendum, the board would need to hike the tax rate by .001, or 5 mills, for 19 to 25 years. A property owner with a $100,000 home would see an additional $60 per year added to his tax bill for the next two decades.
- Hold a bond election by Aug. 6. The residents would be asked to give the board authority to issue $68 million in bonds. If the voters agree to bonds, officials say the district would still assess the .001 tax increase and try to "pay-as-you-go," issuing bonds only for cash flow problems. To bond for the entire $68 million, the district would have to pay $75 million in interest over the 25 years.
- Assess the tax increase without holding an election. The board is believed to have the legal authority to do that, but would have to hold "truth-in-taxation" hearings and let residents voice complaints. Even if residents objected, the board legally has the power to raise the tax rate.