Letter to the Editor: Transparency lacking in Crimson High School, Middle School planning

OPINION — During the process of establishing new schools, transparency can go a long way to help ease concerns in a community. Unfortunately, honest openness was lacking in some major aspects of planning for the Crimson High School-Middle School complex to be built in Washington Fields.

One of those aspects is the location of Crimson High’s main building. The Washington Fields site is surrounded on the east and south sides by undeveloped land, on the north side by 4200 South and on the west side by St. George homes on 3430 East. The school district has chosen to place a 3-story high school building — the largest structure on the campus — adjacent to the existing homes on 3430 East, with a minimally required buffer.

The building’s placement is unique because usually a structure that is the focus of campus life is located in the center of campus, rather than on the edge. In the Washington School District, all the main buildings are situated away from existing homes and businesses.

The reasoning behind this building’s placement has not been disclosed, but if it has to be built on the edge of campus, why could it not be placed next to the undeveloped land on the other side of campus, away from existing homes? In the future, should houses be built next to this large structure overlooking their property in the currently undeveloped land, those new home buyers will have the advantage of knowing prior to their decision to purchase.

Instead, the district is unwilling to place this building next to the undeveloped land, which can only lead taxpayers to question their motives. Without an explanation, residents must furnish their own answers: perhaps a developer has agreed to purchase this undeveloped land adjacent to the school, along with the district’s undeveloped property to the east.

Perhaps a better price was guaranteed if the district agreed not to place this structure next to the developer’s purchase. Or perhaps the developer is a friend or relative entitled to better treatment than the residents on 3430 East. Without clarification, there can only be speculations.

Another issue is how and why the location of the school complex changed. Originally, existing homeowners and those in the process of buying homes were told the schools would be in what is referred to as the district’s “east property.”

Only after seeing wooden stakes in the ground at the new site — which prompted phone calls to the district offices — did the schools’ location-change become public knowledge.

When residents questioned why the original property had been removed from consideration, the school board gave soil issues as one of the primary reasons. However, despite that concern with the east campus, it was discovered that the new location was purchased and building plans finalized without a geotechnical soils test being performed.

They disqualified one piece of property because of soil conditions and purchased another piece with potentially the same issues. Obviously, little forethought went into the purchase of this new piece of property.

When a St. George contractor asked a month ago if he could request a copy of the soils report for the original site — the only soils report the district said had been completed — a school board member responded in a public meeting, “You don’t have enough skin in the game.”

In other words, from this board member’s point of view, the contractor is not affected enough by this project to request the report, yet before the school complex location changed, this contractor would have built two homes and is therefore losing a significant amount of income.

By most standards, he actually does have a lot of skin in the game, but the bigger concern is a school district that feels they have no obligation to be transparent with taxpayers.

Whether or not the law requires the district to inform residents of the construction of a school in their neighborhood, to explain the placement of the buildings, to release a soils report or even perform a traffic study for the safety of the community and students, doing these things would demonstrate a desire to be honest and open and assure taxpayers they are funding a school district with the community’s best interests at heart.

Submitted by Kathy Bence, south Pasadena, California resident and St. George property owner.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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