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Provo District to study list of projects

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PROVO — The Provo Board of Education ordered the district staff Tuesday night to study in depth a list of construction projects, anticipating a June bond election.

The board has to vote by March whether to ask the public to approve a $30 million combined bond issue and property tax increase if the items are to be on the ballot in June. The final decision must be made at least 75 days before the June primary election for the vote to go forward.

The board is considering asking the public to approve a $28 million bond issue and a $2.3 million increase in the voted leeway property tax.

With the bonds and leeway increase, property taxes on a $150,000 house would increase by about $100 a year, said Kerry Smith, district business administrator — the bond increasing taxes by about $60-$70 and the leeway increasing taxes by about $25.

The leeway would pay for building maintenance and operations and the hiring of staff at a new school in the Lakeview neighborhood in west Provo.

About 20 people spoke at Tuesday's board meeting, nearly all in favor of a Lakeview school. Some threatened to vote against the bond if a neighborhood school isn't included in the package.

Richard Vance, a Provo High School teacher and Lakeview South neighborhood chair, said neighbors have organized to rally their cause and won't be pushed aside for the interests of east-side residents.

"You can't deny that has happened (in the past)," Vance told the board, "whether that has been a conscious or unconscious act or a matter of economics and power."

Two parents said their children attend schools in the Alpine School District because of the lack of a neighborhood school and associated busing issues.

Allison Belnap said she is among a group of parents who choose to homeschool their children. Busing to Lakeview — which is a 40-minute commute for some students — was a factor in the decision.

"If we had a neighborhood school, there are many of us who are homeschooling our children (who would) feel more comfortable in sending our children to a neighborhood school," she said.

Despite the board's plans to make certain some buildings are earthquake safe, board vice president Sandy Packard had some concerns but ultimately voted for the study.

Packard wants to hire a firm to do seismic assessments on all Provo schools.

Packard also wants to study issues such as how much it will cost the district to purchase — or seize by eminent domain — houses around Timpanogos Elementary and how boundaries will be drawn when a Lakeview area elementary opens. She worries that low-income students who live in downtown Provo and currently attend eastside schools, will be switched to westside schools, further increasing the perception of an eastside-westside rift, she said.

"We need to take action now," board member Darryl Alder said. "I think we have hyped attention in the community really high."

The board would have 10 years to build the projects proposed in the bond and retains the option to pare the project list and not spend the full amount of the issue. It just needs public approval to bond up to $28 million, Alder said.

Board member Su Curtis said she is concerned by estimates that two-thirds of the district's building are not up to seismic code. Her concerns are tempered by the closure of three old elementary schools over the past two years, the proposed rebuilding of Timpanogos Elementary and proposed updates to Provo High School, she said.

E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com