There are a lot of reasons to keep Dixon on-site. Here are the most important to us:
The site is large enough (even with a building with an inefficient layout) for the current middle school to function. Dixon’s two blocks amount to 9 acres–7.33 of which Provo School District owns. LEED’s Neighborhood guidelines suggest a maximum of 10 acres for a middle school and the states of Oregon, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and New Mexico decidedly do not recommend acreage amounts because they know they pressure schools out of dense neighborhoods. There are many schools in urban districts like ours that sit on less than 20 acres–Clayton Middle School in Salt Lake City being a great example at 9 acres just like Dixon.
Both sites can accomodate a large school. Feasibility studies show that the proposed new school building would be the same size of 150,000 square feet whether it’s built at Footprinter site or renovated and rebuilt at Dixon. This will accommodate a student body of 1,200 students. The students will have the same programming opportunities, the same faculty, the same 21st century education at either location. You will not be sacrificing the quality of education by keeping the current site.
Our middle school student bodies are large and growing. Provo City School District’s ideal student body size for a middle school (according to Mark Wheeler and many other middle school principals and vice principals) is about 900-1,100 students; any more than that and it becomes difficult for administration and faculty to manage and keep track of students. Dixon had 835 students and Centennial had 1,119 in 2017. Rachel Luke, of Centennial’s PTA, says that it has 1,182 children enrolled this year and is projected to have 1,260 next year. It’s already above Provo City School District’s ideal size. Based on US Census’ American Community Survey and Utah State Board of Education predictions, by 2030 (in just ten short years), we should have 2,516 middle school-aged children and could support three middle schools of 836 students each.
The proposed west Provo location would better suit the third middle school when the population of west Provo warrants it and can support it with the growing tax-base. Until then, we need to keep Dixon in Dixon–its location would serve perfectly as a central middle school of three. It would be a shame to lose a central location and have to build two middle schools near each other.
The current site is easy to access for both students and faculty. Because of its close proximity to dense residential areas, calm pedestrian-friendly streets, and transit lines, people from low-income households (who tend to own fewer cars) can easily get to Dixon. Not only is this great for students and faculty, but also for people who come for after school programming, such as ESL classes.
A west Provo location would make it more difficult for students to walk to school. The proposed Footprinters site is not only far away from dense residential areas, but is also surrounded by fallow fields, cul-de-sacs, dead ends, dirt roads, and few sidewalks. Infrastructure improvements on the Footprinters site would only improve the property adjacent to the school. This raises serious Safe Routes to School concerns. Schoolchildren from Grandview, Rivergrove, North Park, Timpanogos, Dixon, Franklin, and Franklin South would cross train tracks and an interstate to get to school. The proposed Footprinters site has a walk score of 7 (out of 100); Dixon has a walk score of 68, Franklin 71, and Timpanogos 88.
Dixon Middle School, built in 1931, is now the oldest-standing functioning school in Provo City School District. It is a beautiful, irreplaceable link to our heritage. Once renovated, it will continue to serve our community well in the future. Our historic buildings celebrate our heritage and give us a sense of place. Abandoning Dixon Middle would be an irreversible mistake.
We are also concerned that moving the school to a new site without a plan for the current building would leave an unusable abandoned building in the middle of the neighborhood. The Provo City Library is now housed in a wonderful restored historic building, but for decades was underused and unsafe, and a magnet for unwanted activities. Not addressing the building’s needs now will burden the neighborhood, future School Boards who will need to deal with the abandoned site, and future taxpayers who will still need to pay for updates to a further deteriorated building.
While it may be cheaper up front for the school district to build out west, it will place a financial and time burden on those living inside the two-mile radius of the school who would be responsible for getting children to school. Students from Timpanogos and Franklin Elementary schools who feed into Dixon have the highest concentration of low-income families in the district at 81% and 79%. The added $10 million to rebuild on-site would cost an owner of a $200k home just $4 per year for three years whereas driving a child from school each day from just two miles away would cost, on average, $720 per year (at $.50 per mile) for somebody living two miles away, in addition wasted time driving–time even more scarce and precious for this vulnerable demographic. Lower-income families are also more likely to have fewer cars, two working parents, and single-parent households that make it difficult to shuttle their children to school and back. This limits the ability of these students to participate in after-school activities, and negatively impacts their education.
A larger site on the edge of town brings with it hidden costs. Dixon currently sits on nine acres, of which Provo School District owns 7.33. The cost to maintain landscaping and paved surfaces on a 20-acre site could easily cost twice as much as the current site. While we don’t have data on how many more students would be bussed at the new site, increased bussing would bring costs with it. From 1978 to 2003, nationwide school transportation costs have doubled, much of which comes from the consolidation of neighborhood schools into larger suburban schools.
Loss of a Community Anchor
Abandoning the current Dixon site would have negative impact on the surrounding area. For years the city has worked hard to revitalize our downtown neighborhoods. We see the impact Orem’s University Mall had on Downtown Provo from the 1970s to 1990s, moving business and investment to Orem. It has taken decades of work to restore our vibrant downtown.
Moving Dixon to west Provo would have that same type of impact, and on one of the lowest-income areas in Provo. Resulting in decreased long-term investment to these neighborhoods and an inevitable decline in family owner-occupied housing. Rebuilding Dixon onsite would, on the other hand, attract families willing to invest long-term in our downtown neighborhoods. The economic and social health of neighborhoods directly impacts the well-being of students and Provo School District’s ability to fulfill its mission.