SALT LAKE CITY — The Granite School District Board of Education will vote in November whether to close Westbrook Elementary School in Taylorsville and Carl Sandburg Elementary School in West Valley City.
If the board votes to close the schools on the proposal’s first reading on Nov. 12, the final vote would occur in December.
Sandburg, located at 3900 S. Rancho Vista Lane, was identified for possible closure in the district’s latest population analysis study. Its enrollment has declined as charter schools have opened in the area and growing numbers of parents are exercising open enrollment options to attend other schools, said school district communication director Ben Horsley on Monday.
The school board has a responsibility to taxpayers to make the best use of its resources, he said.
“The fact is, Granite School District, at its pinnacle of 78,000 (students) in the late ’90s, still has roughly about the same amounts schools as we do now housing 64,000 students,” Horsley said.
Initially, both Sandburg and neighboring Jackling Elementary School were under consideration for potential closure.
Both schools were built in the 1960s, but according to the school district’s facility condition index — with 1 being the worst and 100 the best of all Granite School District buildings — Sandburg ranks eighth while Jackling ranks 61st.
Following a public process that included open houses in September at schools identified for possible closure and those affected by proposed boundary shifts, the district’s population analysis committee’s final recommendations identified Sandburg and Westbrook for closure.
The proposed closure of Westbrook surfaced as the school district has labored to eliminate school boundaries that straddle Bangerter Highway. The highway has undergone updates in several locations adding freeway-style interchanges intended to improve traffic flows and enhance safety for drivers and pedestrians.
The district plans to open a new South Kearns Elementary in 2020, which could increase its enrollment from 325 students to 600 in the new building.
Between the opening of South Kearns and the proposed closure of Westbrook, boundaries of nearby schools would need to be adjusted. Westbrook is located at 3451 W. 6200 South.
One political challenge for the school board is that it identified Sandburg for rebuild in 2025 under the $238 million bond passed by voters in 2017. Now, the population analysis committee has recommended that the school close.
Horsley acknowledged that it is “a difficult turn and challenge for the board to be fiscally responsible.” Since voters approved the bond, school construction costs have rapidly escalated because of materials costs, steel tariffs and labor shortages resulting from major construction projects such as the Salt Lake International Airport project, he said.
“Construction prices, since that bond was passed, have gone up, have gone up over 50%. So we’re having to stretch our 10-year plan already to 15 years. And just based on tariffs, and the market economy here, a $15 million elementary now is $25 million,” he said.
The commitments made to the Sandberg community “are certainly not lost on the board,” he said.
Other issues contributed to the committee’s recommendation, Horsley said.
Jackling has 30 classrooms, compared to Sandburg’s 25. The square footage of Jackling’s media center is nearly twice as large as Sandburg’s. It also has more student restrooms, hallway water fountains, and sits on slightly larger acreage than Sandburg, 13.7 acres compared to 11.9.
Jackling’s school building is about 6,200 square feet larger than Sandburg’s, 55,000 to 48,800 respectively. The schools’ multipurpose rooms are of identical size. However, Jackling has 120 parking stalls compared to Sandburg’s 48, and there is nearly twice as much asphalt at Jackling than Sandburg.
According to school district documents, Jackling’s and Sandburg’s enrollments are 340 and 280, respectively. Jackling is a Title I school, which means it receives additional federal resources intended to enhance educational opportunities for disadvantaged students.
While enrollment is one consideration, the numbers of teachers assigned to each grade level poses greater challenges, he said.
“Once you get below three teachers, you’re having to split classes, parents don’t like that. You’re in a situation where you lack options for parents, and so if they don’t like one teacher, they better like the other teacher, right?” Horsley said.
Fewer teachers means there are fewer options to match student learning styles to teacher strengths, which can impact learning.
Horsley said the school board is sensitive to the fact that school closures are difficult and emotionally taxing for the affected communities.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to do what’s best for kids. We know families like lots of options. Strong, stable schools are going to help them most in the long run,” he said.