ST. GEORGE – Earlier this year the St. George City Council approved 6-acre land sale to Washington County School District for construction of a new elementary school. The 6-acre parcel is next to the Dixie Sunbowl and has served as the Elks Baseball Field. During a work meeting Thursday, the City Council was given an update on the pending design and possible timetable for the project.
“We needed to come by and show you what’s going on so it’s not just ‘poof!’ this big surprise and all of a sudden this building pops up down there,” Craig Hammer, executive director of physical facilities for the county school district, said to the City Council as he started his presentation.
He then shared site plans and a pending design for the two-story elementary school slated to be built on the 6-acre parcel. Located between 100 South and 200 South and west of the Dixie Sunbowl, the new elementary school will replace the aging East Elementary on 600 East. Once vacated, East Elementary will be sold to Dixie State University and converted for use as its new School of Education.
The Utah Legislature has set aside $1.5 million for Dixie State to buy the East Elementary school property.
Currently, the Elks Baseball Field and a series of horseshoe pits sit on the 6 acre parcel. Those will be relocated to Bloomington Park prior to the new school’s construction.
“The (construction) plans are going to hit the street about the 11th of August,” Hammer said, “then the (Washington County School Board) is tentatively planning to award the bid in September.”
The school district originally wanted to start construction in April or May, anticipating a 12-month build-time with estimated completion by fall 2016. Although it will now likely have a later opening, Hammer said it won’t be a problem as students at the current East Elementary property won’t be kicked out of the school building until the new one is ready for them. Dixie State has also been understanding in this circumstance, he said.
The new school, which has yet to receive an official name, will be the first two-story elementary school the district has built. And despite being on a compact space compared to other elementary schools, Hammer said, the two-story school will still be comparable in size to the others.
“All-in-all, our other elementaries are 57 (thousand), 58 (thousand), 59,000-square feet, 25 teaching stations,” Hammer said. “This is the same size. It’s not a smaller school, it’s going to be a same size school.”
The front of the school will be facing north, Hammer said, and on the west side where homes are, the school district plans to build a brick wall instead of putting up a chain link fence.
Inside the school will be a full-size gymnasium with hardwood floors. When the school isn’t using the gym, Hammer said, it could be used by the city for basketball and volleyball.
Both city and school district officials believe building the new school in the central downtown area will revitalize that part of the city, Hammer said. He visited Provo where the Alpine School District had built a multistory elementary school and saw the benefit it had to the surrounding area.
“They went into the old part of Provo and built a three-story elementary on about the same size – maybe a little smaller … it’s about 77,000-square feet – and it revitalized that whole area. Families moved in, it’s become a magnet for that part of town.”
The incoming elementary school is a part of a three-way deal between the school district, the City of St. George and Dixie State University. The district needed a place to build a new elementary, the university needed to expand to meet growing demands and the city had surplus property where the elementary school could be built.
Initially, that surplus property potentially included the Dixie Sunbowl.
When it looked like the Sunbowl could end up on the chopping block to allow for the future school site, many St. George residents balked at the idea. They asked the city to leave the Sunbowl alone. The matter even went on to become a campaign issue for city council candidates during the city’s 2013 municipal elections.
The Sunbowl was ultimately spared and the site of the Elks Field was chosen instead and eventually sold to the school district. In the end, the district got a spot for a new school, the university will be able to expand, and the city is able to preserve the Sunbowl for a while longer.
Following the City Council’s approval to sell Elks Field to the school district in January, Steve Johnson, a spokesman for Dixie State, said the university is very fortunate to be able to inherit a preexisting building into which the landlocked campus can expand. Better still, the East Elementary building already has class and office space set up inside.
“That’s a windfall for the university,” Johnson said, “that we would already have a building in place that has those types of facilities that would allow us to move in and keep the operations of our (School of Education) ongoing.”
“It’s been a great thing for the three agencies,” Hammer said. “If you look at the best possible scenario, I think we’ve reached that for everybody involved.”
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