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Occam’s Razor and Rebuilding Park City Schools

Occam’s razor effectively states, “when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.” It’s a great way to look at things because I think most of us would agree a less complex solution has a better chance of success.

Over that past year, the Park City School District has formed a Master Planning Committee to look at the future needs of our schools. This started out by looking whether Treasure Mountain Junior High should be rebuilt. It then morphed into grade realignment. Then it morphed into a complete rebuilding of the Kearns Campus, that included moving Treasure Mountain to Ecker Hill (or Bear Hollow). Then it morphed into adding all sorts of sports facilities.

Let’s first start by disregarding all the changes to the Kearns campus. Those in effect were driven by the “decision” to make the other changes. This is how it went… If we are going to have grade realignment and add all day kindergarten to our schools we have to move the 5th graders out of our elementary schools because there isn’t room. If the 5th grade gets moved out then they have to go somewhere and it makes sense to put them with 6th graders. If we put the 5th and 6th graders together, it makes sense to have the 7th and 8th graders together. If that happens, it doesn’t make sense to have the 9th graders in a building by themselves so the high school will have to expand to accommodate 9th grade. If we are going to expand the high school, we need to move Dosier Field. If we are going to move Dosier Field, let’s make an athletic part of the campus on the east side. If we are going to make an athletic area of the campus, let’s have a field house. And so on…

Let’s go back to why we needed to expand the high school; grade realignment. So, why do we need grade realignment? School Superintendent Dr. Ember Conley announced that we needed this because only 9% of our 1th grade Hispanic student were competent in English according to SAGE test results. She said that research shows that if you can get these Hispanic kids into all day kindergarten, they will be on par with other students by 2nd grade.

So we need all day Kindergarten to positively impact this population group. Dr. Conley then announced this would need to trigger grade realignment because there wasn’t space in our elementary schools for all day kindergarten. So, this triggers a cascading effect of changes that leads to a $50-$100 million bond to rebuild the entire district. You keep K-4 in the elementary schools. You build a 5/6 school. You have a 7/8 school. You add on to the high school for 9th grade. Since you are doing that, you make the Kearns campus everything everyone may ever want.

What interesting is to back up and look at the root issue. The root issue is adding all day kindergarten to our existing elementary schools. If you take each school individually, I would tend to agree with Dr Conley that there is no space to add full day kindergarten to some of our schools. Yet, what about Jeremy Ranch? They currently have 594 students and have a capacity of 708 (functional capacity of 673). It looks like you could add full day kindergarten classes from at least two schools (30 students in each class) there and still have a little room. What about McPolin? They have 407 students currently and have a capacity of 563 (functional capacity of 535). It looks like you could add 3, 30 student kindergartens to this school.

So, it appears while there may not be room in some of our individual schools to house a full day kindergarten, there likely is plenty of room district wide. What does that mean? We’d need to adjust district boundaries (or incent some students to attend other schools) to even out the number of students. I know that’s probably not a welcome topic in some circles, but neither is putting kids in mobile homes for a year while building happens, having a year without a stadium (as dosier field is rebuilt), or spending $50 million dollars.

There is also the argument that growth is coming and we need to account for that. Actual estimates for student growth by the school district are between a drop of 0.3% and an increase of 2%. The middle range is growth of 1.1%. Changing boundaries would likely more than account for that too.

Now back to Occams’ Razor. To achieve the goal of full day kindergarten and account for a little growth what is the better alternative?

  • Make elementary schools Pre-K to 4th, build a 5/6 school at Ecker, tear down Treasure Mountain Junior High, add on to the high school, move the football field, add all sorts of athletic facilities, and spend $50 million.
  • OR Change school boundaries so that we even out the population at our schools.

If we take the second option, then 5th grade doesn’t get forced out of our elementary schools. Our 6th and 7th grades can stay at Ecker. Our 8th and 9th grades could stay at treasure Mountain (we could still decide to rebuild that). Our High School would stay 10th-12th and no additions would need to take place.

Then later, if a real issue arises that requires a massive rebuilding effort, we’d still have space and money to do it.

I think the simplest solution, and the one that makes the most sense, is likely to just move the boundaries.





I love your return to simplicity. I would ask you to look at capacity of PCHS and see if you can apply some simple logic to that too. How much space do we really need in an addition?

I am hopeful after last night’s meeting that master planning committee will have some deeper discussions. It seems to me like the real talking is just getting started!

Thanks for the good journalism you are doing in support of honest decision-making and human behavior.



It looks like the current enrollment of PC High (10-12) is: 1136. The current enrollment of 9th grade is 390. So, the total enrollment in a 9-12 would be 1526.

The PC High capacity is listed at under 1200. So, even if the capacity numbers aren’t perfect, it is likely that a 9th – 12th at that facility would require additional space.

Now, if we have a little fun and say that we will be over capacity by 426 students (1526-1100), and we calculate that we need 167 square feet per student (national average for high school), that means we need an expansion of 71,000 square feet.

This is expansion is about 80,000. So, that is about 10% more than normal. However, it’s in the ballpark.


Thank you for the info. Where did you get 1200 capacity? The master planning doc from 2011 lists PCHS capacity as 1500.


Great question PCMom

It came from this slide below presented by the school districts on Tuesday night. 1200 might even be a little high. It may be a bit small here in the comments… to look at a larger version, click here


BTW, you bring up a good point. Why don’t the numbers match? And since they don’t match, what does CAPACITY even mean?

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