Proposal Brings New Light to Possible New Carbon High Facility

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This plot map shows the property on Cedar Hills Drive where Research Drive runs through it with an idea of where a high school building could sit. Presently the idea is that Carbon High would initially retain the football field, baseball field and softball field across Cedar Hills Drive for their use. Later those venues could be added to the new site.

Carbon School District Press Release

For 22 years, from 1937 to 1959, Carbon High School and at the time, Carbon College, shared the same campus, using the same buildings, sports facilities and even instructors. It was an arrangement that ended when Carbon School District built a new high school just east of the then shared campus on 400 North in Price. That once new high school, now nearly 60 years old, has been added onto and remodeled a number of times and the district has been making preliminary plans to remodel it very extensively in the next decade, rather than build a new building somewhere else in the area.

But those plans may never have to take place, and a new building might be in the works, if a group of business leaders and officials at what is now USU Eastern have their way.

At the Carbon School District Board of Education meeting on November 9, two of the leaders of the group, Frank Peczuh and USU Eastern Chancellor Joe Peterson presented a plan to the board that proposed the board examine and give the go ahead for the group to explore the possibility of the present high school campus becoming part of the college. And then under that plan there would then be a new high school constructed on property the college owns on Cedar Hills Drive.

How this could happen is being plotted out, but nothing is for sure. However there are signs that it could take place.

At a campaign luncheon in a Carbon County restaurant in July, Utah Governor Gary Herbert was speaking about exporting the prosperous growth of the Wasatch Front to rural parts of the state, where the expansion hasn’t been taking place. Someone, during a question and answer period said that was all good and fine, but asked how Carbon could thrive when such an old school building exists as the major high school and with the area struggling financially, how one could be constructed. The governor said that he thought something could be done about that.

That comment set some minds in motion.

Traditionally, public school building construction and upgrades have been the business of local school boards. They must raise the money to build or remodel through bonds that are paid for by property taxes. In the case of Carbon District, the sagging economy probably would squash any such move, due to the lack of funds.

That way of building new buildings is very different from the way the Utah Higher Education system in the state constructs structures. They get their money directly from the legislature through a priority list that is established by the public colleges and universities in the state.

Thus the legislature would possibly look somewhat unfavorably toward using general purpose money to pay for a public high school, since traditionally school districts have their own mechanism for doing such a thing. However the group that is looking at the transaction in Carbon County believe that it can be done.

In August they held a meeting of all the members in the group and invited Carbon School District Superintendent Steve Carlsen and Carbon High Principal Bruce Bean. It was there that school district officials were first introduced to the idea.

“At first I thought this would be an impossibility,” said Carlsen.  “There are a lot of working parts to make this all happen, but with the support and effort of the people in our community working on this it seems more realistic now.”

The concept the group is using seems simple.  USU Eastern would get the money from the state to pay off the final remaining bond that Carbon District owes on capital improvements. That bond is due to be paid off in 2021, and in the vicinity of about $4 million is owed on it. Then USU Eastern would ask for additional money to buy the high school from the district. Once that was achieved USU Eastern would give the land that they own on Cedar Hills Drive to the school district to build a new high school campus. With the bond paid off the school district could bond again for the money to do that without having to raise taxes.

“We are just in the exploration stages of this,” said Peczuh as he presented the idea to the board. “What we are looking for is your support to go ahead with this, to get your blessing in that it would be something you would be interested in.”

Board members had been informed about the idea the month before when Peczuh and Petersen had come to the October board meeting and given them some preliminary thoughts on the plan. This time the board had had some time to think about it, and while questions still remained about how it would all come about, they agreed that just exploring the possibility could be of benefit to both the school district and the college.

Peterson said in an interview later that as he began to think about it a contiguous campus for the college would be a good idea and he said there has already been consideration concerning the next facility the school would need as it grows.

“We had been thinking about what would be the next building on campus,” he said. “We started discussing a Nursing and Health professions building, thinking about possible donations and grants that could help us build it. We even did an architectural feasibility study on the Cedar Hills property.”

With that study and some drawings that came from it, Peterson said they were able to get an idea of the buildings they wanted to build, but then the idea of putting a high school there came up so they used some of the planning work that had been done to look at how that would fit in the area. A plot drawing was presented to the board that night to show them how it could be done.

“It was just like putting two and two together,” said Peterson of solving facility problems and coming up with a good, everyone wins scenario.

The idea of colleges and public education, along with business groups putting together plans to build facilities isn’t unprecedented said Peterson. He said that some similar projects had taken place in Vernal and in Tooele and that this concept is not that far from what was done in those two places.

With the idea on the table, and some more planning and engagement, working with the Utah State Legislature on such a project could come as early as the 2018 session.

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