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Should VCBO Resign from Park City School District’s Planning Process?

Ever heard of the $600 hammer that the Federal Government routinely purchases? $600 for a $12 hammer is a great deal…. if you are selling it.

It appears that hammer is coming to Park City (and our schools) in the form of a potential bond for Treasure Mountain School.

As you may know, the School District wants to tear down Treasure Mountain Junior High and build a new school. As part of this, there are a number of “side” projects that may be included like a new School District Office, a space for PC CAPS, a Fieldhouse for the High School, and more.

You may be in full support of this initiative or you may not. However, what we are probably all in agreement of is that public funds should be used in the most efficient manner possible. The better we use our money on schools, the better schools we get. We can pay teachers more, get better facilities, put more programs in place for our kids, or we save for a rainy day.

Yet, what we saw this Thursday during the Park City School District’s (PCSD) Master Planning Committee Meeting disturbed us.

It is beyond just ‘likely’ that the School District will issue a bond for a rebuild of Treasure Mountain School. The Park City School District has hired a firm called VCBO to plan for a rebuild of the school. On Thursday, employees of VCBO were in attendance at the PCSD meeting.

They were asked by Todd Hansen, PCSD Building’s Director, what the cost was for a new school school. Here is the exchange:

Todd Hansen (to VCBO Planning Group): Hey guys, the cost for building right now is about…what… a hundred…?

VCBO: $160 to $180 [per square foot]

Todd Hansen: [So] $180 to $160 depending on how elaborate you get.

VCBO: It depends on the economy. We are not back up ’07. It might be by the time you all do this.

Todd Hansen: The Longer we wait the more expensive the money is.

VCBO: If I was going to do it we’d calculate for a bond election at $250.

So, the cost right now is $160-$180 per square feet. Yet if VCBO were to determine the costs for rebuilding related to a bond election they would recommend $250 per square feet? They would recommend that Park City and Snyderville Basin Citizens citizens sign up for paying $70-$90 more per square foot than today’s rate? By the way, that’s 38%-50% higher than today.

Why would VCBO ever do that?

First, this is purely speculation. So we don’t know for sure. But here are some ideas:

  1. Perhaps they think that in 12 months it will cost 50% more to build something in Park City.
  2. Perhaps they want to give the builder (whoever that is) a little leeway.
  3. Perhaps they are doing a solid for Park City Schools. If the bond is $80 million and they only need $50 million to build the school then PCSD can use the rest to build other things like PC CAPS buildings.
  4. Perhaps VCBO believes they will aso get the contract for building the school. What better way to ensure top dollar than to plan for a school at $250 per square foot and then get the contract for building it… at $250 a square foot.

Again, we don’t know for sure. We are speculating. Perhaps they are just trying to prepare us for massive inflation. We don’t know.

Our further concern stems from conflicts of interests related to the planner versus builder of the new school. As we sat in meetings, PCSD Master planning Committee Co-chair Rory Murphy was fairly adamant that he was not in favor of the Planner and Builder being the same company. The rest of the committee seemed to zone off … seemingly watching the finale of Two and Half Men. We reached out a planner we knew and they confirmed Mr. Murphy’s concerns were not out in left field. It seems both making a plan and fulfilling that plan can introduce conflicts of interest.

Where we are right now is that VCBO is planning the project. From what we have seen, VCBO’s Planner, Molly Smith, is exceptional at her job. She will have Park City folks wondering why they aren’t rebuilding all South Summit schools too, when she is done. The bond will pass and then they’ll need someone to build the new Treasure Mountain school. Who is the best person to do this? Probably someone who has a lot of experience in the community!!! VCBO.

We reached out to someone with intimate knowledge of planning and the person indicated that since VCBO got the planning contract it may stop some other companies from applying, because they assume that VCBO has got the rest. That’s not VCBO’s fault… it sounds like it’s just the way it is. So, we’d guess VCBO is already the front runner for construction.

The issue with VCBO planning the project and then bidding on construction is that they have influenced the project. In this specific case, they have influenced the perceived price — and in a dramatic fashion. Is that a conflict of interest? We, as citizens, need to decide.

We see two paths that restore the public’s confidence. Either VCBO is removed IMMEDIATELY from planning or VCBO is not allowed to bid on construction. They have admitted they would recommend a cost 38%-50% above current levels. Why would we as a community support that, especially given the conflicts.

If you were rebuilding your fence and got 5 bids would you go with the guy who is 50% more? No, you’d probably think he is ripping you off. In this case, we are at the front end of the process. We have a chance to do what’s right and ensure every dollar of money put towards students helps students.

In this case, 20%-50% above current levels seems to be helping someone else.

We believe every dollar of funds spent toward education should somehow benefit the students. We have an opportunity to stop and say “we understand the game. stop.” We need to ensure that our hard earned dollars are spent well. The current arrangements may not afford that or the public interest.



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