Wasatch County residents have earned what seems like a doctorate in dealing with growth, but channeling change is a never-ending process that seems to be as challenging as the teenage years. Just like that awkward, formative, and stressful stage of life, Wasatch County has a lot of current issues: traffic, taxes, affordable housing, water, air quality, the airport, public safety, and on and on and on. (Take a deep breath — it’s going to be okay.) With growth being the proverbial issue on every local campaign, and education always being a high priority to the community, the Wasatch County School District School Board has set out to develop a 10-20 year master plan while pursuing citizen involvement. This planning process has been named “Future Schools Project” (FSP). In 2021 WCSD held a multi-step interview process in hopes of hiring a consultant team. With an impressive presentation and an exceptional resume of projects and values, GSBS Architects, in Salt Lake, was selected to direct this process of determining educational goals, assessing the facilities, and recommending future options.
Last fall, 489 registered voters responded to a community survey issued by Y2 Analytics. All results can be found on the FSP website (futureschoolsproject.com). The question is not if we will need more schools, but why, where, when, and most importantly how. One key finding from the survey showed that Wasatch County residents find fiscal responsibility (91%) and transparency (87%) “very important”.
According to the FSP website, “The Wasatch School District administration and Board of Education are committed to a master planning process that prioritizes listening to parents, students, and community members. Our Master Planning Goals are: Be innovative and forward-thinking as we plan for growth, Ensure that students reach their personal goals and become productive contributing members of society, and create solutions that are efficient and financially responsible.”
The FSP is a simple concept yet has detailed steps and multi-involved phases that have been taking place since September 2021. Phases include: gathering information, generating options, reviewing with the public, and finally the master plan draft presentation at the school board meeting on April 21, 2022. As part of community engagement, three committees were formed to help consult, frame, and direct this process; an educators committee (teachers and administrators), an advisory committee (elected officials of local jurisdictions and leaders of community organizations), and a steering committee (constituents selected by school board and district administrators). The FSP team has tried to give the community as many opportunities as possible to voice opinions, share ideas, and ask questions. There have been surveys, neighborhood meetings, and a special website with a place to “join the conversation”. It is always possible to email or call board members and district personnel. Contact information can be found at wasatch.edu.
Part of the process also included an assessment, completed in December-January, of current school buildings and facilities. The project team analyzed safety and maintenance issues; and explored whether or not buildings were meeting the education visions gathered from the prior input of the committees.
Building “Bridges” to Future Schools
This project comes on the heels of the 2019 bond failure. It was an emotional campaign with frustration and passion from both proponents and objectors. The final outcome showed 57% voting against and 42% in favor.
Superintendent Paul Sweat explains, “The Future Schools Project is the Board of Education’s response to the community asking to be more involved in the planning process, as well as to the rapid growth that we are experiencing in Wasatch County and within the District. Based on continual updates from District Staff, they know our buildings are at — or over — capacity, and we are in need of a long-range plan to address the growth, which shows no signs of slowing down, based on data from local agencies gathered by our demographers, Davis Demographics.”
Findings from the community survey referenced above, show how growth and education are perceived in the valley. 67% believe that the county is growing “much too quickly” along with 82% agreeing that public education is “very important to the health of a community”. Community involvement is also “very important” to 67% of those who participated in the survey.
Sweat reflects, “It’s been eye-opening to see the engagement and enthusiasm for the process from within our District and throughout the community. We’ve long heard that our constituents want to become involved in our District; now they are actively participating in the process through committees and community meetings. Our visits to school staff meetings were very productive in gathering information for us to share with our consultant team, GSBS Architects, and allowed teachers and staff to candidly share their thoughts and concerns.”
April: Enroll in Civil Engagement 101
Although much has happened in the past six months, the next two months are even more crucial and exciting. All the effort and hard work will culminate at a public open house on April 7th. A final master plan draft will be shared at the school board meeting on April 21st. Look for details to be announced soon on the district website (wasatch.edu) or the Wasatch County School District’s Facebook page.
“The Open House on April 7th will provide the public with an opportunity to view the recommendations from GSBS, which will incorporate the information they’ve gathered during their months-long process. It will be a chance for folks to weigh in on the possible next steps in addressing growth within our District,” says Sweat.
Lindsey Ferrari, the public outreach consultant for GSBS Architects, explains, “This master planning process is designed to identify the public’s vision and values for education through a set of guiding principles; assess how the district’s facilities and buildings are performing now and how they will perform with future growth projections; then give the public some options for addressing growth based on the public’s vision. Those options will be presented to the public for feedback at the open house in April and through other various methods such as the District website and smaller group meetings. It’s important for residents to get involved in April and let the school board and consultant team know which options they want to accept as a community.” Ferrari continued by stating, “I’d also like to add that the master plan will not dictate where and what a new school or expansion might look like, but rather when the board should consider taking action based on pre-determined milestones regarding growth or building condition. So the public should be on the same page as to when and how the District will address growth.”
Just like a high school graduate that made it through those tough and fun teenage years, the future holds many possibilities and educational options for Wasatch County. Now is the time to take the opportunity to be a part of the vision and decision-making process for future schools. The next few weeks will advance the goal of addressing and managing growth and education in positive and intentional ways.
Sweat concluded by stating, “It’s crucial for our community to know we are working diligently to ensure our learning environments will provide the best possible achievement outcomes for the students of Wasatch County. Whether that takes the form of updated or new buildings will be determined by the FSP process and our much-anticipated Facilities Master Plan.”
Learn more and get involved FUTURESCHOOLSPROJECT.ORG