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The Issue With Addressing Park City’s Potential Growth NOW

I received an email a few days ago asking if I had read the Park Record article on the projected growth in our area. The article does a great job highlighting all the available land with development rights in our area. There IS A LOT of land ready to be developed. Yet, what I have a little problem with is the leap from “what’s available to build/sell” to “who will actually buy it.”

Much of the land in question has had those development rights for a long time and nothing has been built. Why not? It didn’t make economic sense to actually build something. It was worth more to the owner to sit on the land and wait or to sell someone else on the future prospects (and have them wait).

So just because the land is available, it doesn’t mean that it will be swallowed up. There needs to be a trigger for growth. For instance, Silver Creek Village (by Home Depot) does have some 1300 units apportioned. However, it scheduled to be built out over 20 years. Don’t you think if they could sell 1300 units right now, at a “good” price, they would? Likewise, Park City Heights (by the movie studio) is scheduled to have a little under 300 units. They are lining buyers up for 100 units now. The affordable units are scheduled to be sold over the next 5-10 years. The point is that rampant growth isn’t going to happen immediately or probably even in the next decade.

The other issue is that most people who cry “growth” have some vested interest in the idea of growth. It is either the Governor’s Office who wants to show that Utah is doing fabulously because of their efforts. It is local government who seems to like to have problems to solve and the tax dollars associated with more development. It is property owners who want to use growth as a reason to drive up their values to sell their property to someone else.

If you take a look at long term trends, for instance in home ownership, you’ll see that it has almost never been lower (since it began being measured).

homeownership

So it makes me wonder who is going to buy all this available property. Second home owners? Probably in a lot of cases. Then it makes me wonder if owners will be foolish enough to develop the land, if returns are low (due to lack of demand). I don’t think so in the medium term (unless the economy really goes bad and they need the money).

In the long run, we are likely looking at the Park City area being another suburb of Salt Lake City, just like Draper. And unfortunately there is not much we can do about it, as that ship sailed a long time ago. However, the long run could be 50 years. A lot can happen in 50 years. Skiing could no longer be an option here.

While we wait on what could happen in 50 years, we need to concentrate on the next 5 years. We need to make sure we aren’t listening to the boy who cried growth and making bad investments during the interim. Squandering time and money now, on something that will happen in 20 years, is a recipe for disaster. We’ll just have to spend more money then to correct the problems caused by our actions today and really fix the issues of the future.

To be sure, it is a tricky situation. We don’t want to be caught off guard and have to play catch-up but we don’t want to waste money prematurely either.

Welcome to The Real World

A few days ago, I received a comment from a reader about rebuilding a 7/8/9th school on the Treasure Mountain site. The reader commented, “Hundreds of TMJH students walk back and forth to the HS for classes. This not only isn’t fun in the winter, it also makes them late for classes.” I was visiting with a friend about this and her comment was, “Did you ever walk across your college campus when it was -25 degrees and bare skin would freeze in 30 seconds? No? Did you ever have 15 minutes between college classes but the walk took 20 minutes? Welcome to the real world.”

She has a point. I lived about a mile from campus during college. That was about a 20 minute walk. Campus took about another 20 minutes to walk across if my class was on the other side. And yes, in winter, it was cold. We talk about preparing our kids for the future challenges all the time, yet I think many people would agree that Park City doesn’t represent the real world for many things our children will encounter.

Some of the things that come to mind from my time in school:

  • If you go to a state school, you will have 300 people in your English 101 class (and math, and biology, and…).
  • Most instructors don’t give a damn about you. If they do, they’ll pretend they don’t to make your better.
  • You will take classes in some pretty crappy environments. If you don’t succeed just because the paint is peeling or it smells a little bad, that’s on you.
  • Your professor, instead of asking you to stand up and say “I am an overprivileged white shit head” will just explain exactly how you are one.

The point is that it cuts both ways. If we are preparing our kids educationally for the “real world” we can’t ignore the basic “struggles” they will face. One of those could be walking a long way in an ice storm to attend a lecture that they care nothing about.

If we pamper our kids now, it only does them a disservice later.

 

Pedestrian Connection Being Built Between Jeremy Ranch and Pinebrook

I heard today from Summit County’s new Transportation Director that work was about to being on a walking/biking connection between Pinebrook and Jeremy Ranch. I don’t have much information other than work should begin in 3-4 weeks, it will initially be an above ground connection, and later it may be a tunnel. This will be a great addition for those of us living in the neighborhood and has to make the Park City Pedestrian woman, who has been fighting for this for years, at least moderately happy.

When I hear more, I’ll let you know.

Provo Is Rebuilding 5 Schools for $100 Million. Park City Gets 1 1/3 Schools for $50 Million

An incensed reader wrote to me about a $108 million school bond approved in Provo late last year. She said, “How in the he** does Provo rebuild 5 schools for $100 million when we get 1 new school and an addition to the High School for $50 million. Are we paying Park City prices for our schools too?”

It does seem interesting. The Provo School District is rebuilding Provo High (about 1650 student) and four elementary schools as part of the project. The high school has 4 wings and they are tearing down and rebuilding one at a time. Each of the elementary schools are being completely torn down and rebuilt.

What’s equally as interesting is why they are rebuilding their schools. It appears most of these schools are 50-60 years old. In the case of Provost Elementary, “an employee goes to work an hour and a half early every Monday morning to turn on the water so it’s not brown when the kids arrive.” In Park City’s case, Treasure Mountain was built in 1983 (32 years old) and was renovated in the late 90’s. We are tearing it down because it is “cursed” and has bad pipes. Reading that, and comparing the two, it makes me feel like we are a bunch of spoiled, rich kids. Incredible.

So, I don’t know what to more upset about. Should I be more upset that we seem to want to tear down a school that has some issues but in the scheme of things probably isn’t that bad, or should I be more upset that we are paying a fortune to do it. I’ll probably just hate the decision for all of the above.

Lest you think Provo is just a bunch of “Choose the Right”ers with awful education, and so they can afford to cheap out on schools, I’ll remind you that Provo has the top high school (Timpview) in Utah according to US News and World Reports. So, they seem to know what they are doing.

There are just so many things that are wrong with the process we are heading down. I’ve been watching the Park City School District Master Planning process since January, so i know how we got to where we are. That said, where we are is starting to look like a very bad place.

The Extra $4 million That You’ll Be On the Hook For

During Wednesday’s Park City School District Master Planning Committee meeting, the subject of moving the 5/6 school to Ecker Hill was talked about. Specifically, traffic was discussed. The Committee Co-Chairman, Rory Murphy, said he wasn’t sure that Summit County should be solely on the hook for fixing any additional traffic issues caused by adding a school at Ecker Hill. A few other members of the Committee said they felt it was Summit County’s problem.

The Planning Company, VCBO, then chimed in that they had just received results of a study that indicated what would alleviate the traffic issues: two roundabouts.

Great. Problem Solved.

Or should I say, another problem created. If I recall the cost of each roundabout when they expanded Kimball Junction (to add Five Guys, Zupas, etc.) was something like $1.5 million to $2 million a piece. In the case of Kimball Junction, the developer had to pay impact fees that covered much of the cost. In this case, it sounds like the School District wants Summit County to pay for that.

Who exactly is Summit County? You are. I am. We all are. Do they (we) have an extra $4 million sitting around? Probably not. What happens when a government needs money they don’t have?

Yep. More taxes.

Let’s Get Really Frugal on Rebuilding Our Schools

Previously I wrote that it may make sense to look at rebuilding Treasure Mountain Junior High on Kearns with 7th, 8th, and 9th grade at the facility. It was about 40% cheaper than what the school district seems to be contemplating. Yet, there may be an even cheaper alternative.

The core issue, according to our district, is that we need to have Pre-K and all day kindergarten in our elementary schools. It has been stated that there isn’t room for this. So, the district has gone down a path of realigning grades that has lead to a cascading effect that will likely cost over $50 million.

Yet, what if there was a cheaper alternative? What if we were to add on a few classrooms at each school? What would that cost? Let’s say we added 3 classrooms for Pre-K and kindergarten at each of the 4 elementary schools. That would be 12 total classrooms. If each class held 25 students (higher than it would likely be) and we used a standard square footage of 117 square feet per elementary student, with construction costs at $170 per square feet. That is a cost of about $6 million.

That is about 1/8 the cost of what is currently planned. It is likely even less because some schools like Jeremy Ranch already have the room. Perhaps you’d use Jeremy’s “3 classrooms” at Trailside instead. There are lots of options…

The important point is that there seem to be many strategies to achieve our goals, many of which cost much less money than $50 million.

If we only had an open mind…

Why Not Rebuild Treasure Mountain on Kearns Boulevard with 7th, 8th, and 9th?

I was talking to a friend tonight and she said one of those things that makes too much sense. I was explaining the improvements the school district wants. She said, “so they want to spend $20 million on the high school, to add 1 grade?” I said yes. She gave me that look and said, “can’t they build a new school for that?” She has a point.

Then she said something really important. “Why not just rebuild Treasure Mountain Junior High with 7th, 8th, and 9th grade and put 5th and 6th at Ecker Hill? It has to be cheaper and you still get the room to have all day kindergarten in the elementary schools.”

Why didn’t I think of that? Or more importantly, why didn’t the Master Planning Committee think of that?

Right now the plan is to spend about $50 million to add on to the High School, tear down Treasure Mountain, and build a new school at Ecker Hill. What would it cost to rebuild Treasure Mountain for 3 grades? Using national standards, we would take the number of students (about 1200) times 140 square feet per student times $170 per square feet. That gives us a cost of $28 million. Not cheap … but it is half the cost of their current plan.

The school district gets what they say they want with all day kindergarten. The death trap Treasure Mountain International School gets torn down. A new school is built. The number of transitions for students are the same. We keep schools in city. The benefits associated with a centralized Kearns campus are magnified.

Now I’m sure some would say that the real negative with this idea is that it would increase traffic on Kearns. Yet, when the Master planning Committee was talking tonight about adding a school to the Ecker Hill campus, they said traffic was Summit County’s problem to solve. They said that what they were concerned with was education. So, in this case, any traffic issue is Park City Municipal’s issue to solve.

Given that, this almost seems like a no brainer.

What Local Ski Resort is Charging For Parking?

When Vail came to town, concerned citizens worried that charges for parking would soon follow. So far that fear hasn’t come to fruition. But there is another ski resort that seems to be inching its way in that direction . If they pull it off, it’s likely other resorts will follow.

Who do we have to thank for this? Snowbird.

I was planning my annual pilgrimage to Snowbird’s Oktoberfest and I wondered what time the event started. To my surprise, I saw the following at the bottom of the page:

Special Note: Due to the overwhelming popularity of this event and limited parking at the resort, we strongly encourage guests to consider carpooling. To that end, during these event days, Snowbird will be charging $5 (cash-only) for parking in lots accessed via Entries 1, 2 and 4.

Then I began wondering if it was a trend. So, I checked out their page on a previous event, Brewfest. Yep, “$5 parking (cash only)” was listed in the pricing. What could the reason be?

The positive way to look at it is they are trying to incent people to take a bus up the canyon to help reduce traffic and make the ride safer. Yet, $5 probably won’t do that, especially if the car has multiple people. The more cynical way to look at it is a revenue grab. It appears Snowbird has about 2800 parking spots. If all those were filled up at Oktoberfest each day, that would be a clean $14,000 every day. Not bad gravy on top of an already successful event.

The real question for Snowbird is whether they will carry this over to the ski season. I’d guess that if they receive few complaints this fall, it very likely could be. Then the question becomes how long until paid parking is adopted by PCMR and Canyons. If Snowbird does go forward with it this season, and doesn’t get much bad press, I’d look for changes here within a year.

Thanks Snowbird.

Community Opinions Show Its Time to Slow the Process

I was impressed by the positive atmosphere of the final Park City School District’s Master Planning community meeting on July 21 and the insightful contributions that the many people in attendance made. Many people seem to support the committee and where the plans are headed, and the community still has many ideas that need to be talked through and considered.

During the hour of the meeting designated for comments, many people shared their ideas and concerns with passion, respect, and insight. Some excellent points were made. A few of the community concerns included transportation, walking back and forth between the high school and the sports facilities on the east side of the campus, and costs.

One of the underlying themes of the meeting was separating our wants from our needs. The problem is that we still don’t quite know what our wants and needs are. Some community members argued against the extra costs of an indoor field house, while others pleaded not to let sports and the arts be considered a lower priority.

The many comments and ideas the community had regarding the plans go to show that we may need to slow down the planning process. There are still many things to consider when it comes to the Kearns campus in particular, and I think it’s important that we really think through all the options we still have. I think the positive contributions made at the meeting are an excellent stepping stone to drafting the best possible plan for our district.