The Parking “Issue”

In a recent post, we mentioned that Utah recommends that its middle schools be sited on at least 20 acres. Much of that land is used for parking that is only used during big school events. The rest of the time, it’s money and land spent on something unnecessary.

We went to Dixon and Centennial on Tuesday, March 26 to count how much of the provided parking is used on an average day. Here’s what we found:

  • At 1:15pm at Dixon Middle, 53/68 parking spaces were full (78%)
  • At 1:35pm at Centennial Middle, 84/152 parking spaces were full (55%)

This means that both schools have more than enough parking needed for average daily use. Dixon also doesn’t need as much as Centennial because of its location in a dense, walkable area of the city.

Event “Overflow” Parking

There are several times per month when Dixon could use additional parking. I’ll refer to this as overflow parking. Here are some options:

  1. Overflow parking could be back-in angled parking on the street. If wrapped around the entire Dixon campus, this would provide about 90 parking spaces, 25% more than parallel parking.

2. Overflow parking could be green space. This would allow it to be used for other things when not car parking.

3. Overflow parking could be located off-site. Timpanogos Elementary has a large parking lot and is only two blocks away from Dixon. There is a church to the east of Dixon that–with negotiation–could possibly serve as overflow parking, also. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints allows UTA to use some of their lots in Salt Lake County for park and ride. The Church also shares one of its parking lots with The University of Utah.

Our point is that there are creative solutions to provide overflow parking without paving over space that could be used better for other things 300 days of the year.

The Wisest Option

FFKR Architecture’s Option One

The feasibility studies offer a lot of options to the school district. Options include rehabilitating the old school, replacing inefficient and insignificant add-ons, building a new school on-site and sharing the land with the school district administration, and building on a new site.

We believe FFKR’s Option One is the wisest option for Provo School District. Here’s why:

  • It would keep Dixon in Dixon
  • It would replace all add-ons after 1931 with 130,000 square feet of beautiful new school
  • It would preserve the 1931 historic section and keep it in use by Dixon Middle
  • It would cost Provo School District roughly the same as a new west-side school up front ($55m vs $52m) and be cheaper in the long run because of decreased maintenance of fields, parking lots, and potentially more bus miles traveled (although same number of buses)
  • It would preserve quite a bit of open space for physical education
  • It would leave the Footprinters Park site open for a future third middle school as the population grows. Centennial’s student body is already above the recommended size (1,119 and growing) and Dixon will get there someday (835 and growing). Both a densifying core Provo and a developing west Provo will increase student enrollment. See population growth numbers here.
  • At between 9 acres (if you count the parking lot easement and sidewalks/park strips) and 7.33 acres (if you count just the land Provo School District owns), it would keep Dixon within the LEED for Neighborhood Development-recommended 10 acre-maximum standard for middle schools
  • It would keep Dixon in a walkable and densely-populated area, decreasing the need for massive parking lots that are only actually full during the biggest events of the year (see Provo High)
  • It is the recommended on-site option from PCI’s feasibility study summary

Check out the details below and check out the full feasibility studies here.

How You Can Help

We’re gonna need an army of activists.

If you want to keep Dixon in Dixon, we need your help. We have to convince the school board to rebuild Dixon Middle on-site. The school board will be putting a bond up for public vote this year; we need them to specify that it will be kept on-site in that bond language. If not, we vote against it.

Here’s what you can do to help:

  1. Attend the final public meeting about the 2019 Provo School District Bond on Tuesday, March 26 at 7pm at Rock Canyon Elementary. Say why you want to keep Dixon in Dixon.
  2. Email members of the school board. Jim Pettersson is assigned to Dixon but it doesn’t hurt to send a quick message to them all.
  3. Vote yes on a bond that rebuilds Dixon on-site. Vote no on a bond that moves it.
  4. Tell your friends and neighbors! You can even just share this website on your social media.

The Hidden Costs of Building Out West

EDIT – Provo School District later told us that they would pay the cost of infrastructure to the Footprinter site.

The school board was told through feasibility studies that building off-site would be cheaper for the school district than rebuilding on-site by about 10% or $5 million. However, it may not be cheaper for the taxpayer. That is because building on the Footprinters Park site would require a vast amount of infrastructural upgrades that Provo City (via Provo City’s taxpayers) would have to pay for.

The Footprinters Park site is currently agricultural land. Note the happy goats and horses in the photo.

A build on the west side would need at least the following infrastructural upgrades:

1. Curb and Gutter Upgrades. There is currently sidewalk on only half of 1100W which would be a major route to the school. Many people would turn right where that tree casts a shadow. A quick walk around this area will show you that the sidewalks are not even close to complete as those in Dixon.
2. Road Construction. What you see here is 890 South. It could be one of the entrances to the school. It’s mostly gravel and not wide enough for two cars to pass each other (only 12 feet). At best they’d pave over some of the park and move utility lines to widen the road and at worst they’d have to purchase land from neighboring residents. Also, if Provo City has to connect 1600 West to Lakeview Parkway, there’s at least another million dollars.

3. Sewer Upgrades. There is currently a freeze on development on the west side because the sewer infrastructure is not yet sufficient to meet demand.

4. Culinary Water. Water lines would have to be put in to provide sufficient water for a school.

Bonus: Ongoing costs to repave a massive parking lot every ten years and continuously water and maintain additional landscaping on a 20-acre site.

What would the cost of infrastructural upgrades be?

We’re not really sure, but it cost Provo City between $5 million and $7 million to build the infrastructure to Provo High. That would make building on the west side more expensive than rebuilding on-site in the end.

But the infrastructure has to go in eventually, right?

If people want to live there, yes. However, those costs are usually footed by developers who pass it on to home buyers. In the end, it’s the homeowners who pay for the costs through increased home prices.

Building off-site will likely be more expensive to the taxpayer than building on-site. Just another reason to keep Dixon in Dixon!

School Sites and Acreage

The State of Utah recommends that middle schools be housed on at least 20 acres of land–something attainable only on the outskirts of cities. Much of this acreage is not productive classroom space but used for massive parking lots and grassy fields that see only a few hours of use per day but require constant watering and mowing.

Frontier Middle School in Eagle Mountain, Utah. Notice the large parking lot needed because it is so far away from where people actually live. Good luck maintaining all that grass.
Desert Hills Middle School in St. George, Utah. Good on them for not trying to keep the grass green in the summer–it’s a waste in desert climates. Another parking lot larger than needed.
Hurricane Middle School in Hurricane, Utah. Good on them for limiting grass. Too much space dedicated to parking that is only full during the most exciting sporting events.

On the other hand, LEED for Cities recommends a maximum of 10 acres for a middle school. This encourages school siting in dense, mixed-use neighborhoods. A greater number of smaller schools provides students with the opportunity to walk to school. Some research even indicates that children perform better in smaller schools compared to mega-schools. These schools can also serve as community gathering spaces as does Dixon.

Clayton Middle School in Salt Lake City, Utah sits on nine acres. The neighboring church building could serve as overflow parking during large evening events. Dixon has that same opportunity.
Dixon sits on nine acres (of which PCSD owns 7.33) and provides so much parking that they decided to stick a medical clinic in the parking lot! On-street parking and the neighboring church parking lot (potential) serve as overflow parking during events. The field is over three acres and provides enough space for current PE programs.
VCBO’s Option 1B for Dixon Middle would provide both a district office in the 1931 section and a brand new 150,000 square-foot 3-story school on the north side of the property. Just enough green space for a full-sized soccer field, and track. Too much parking for current demand–but we’ll overlook that to keep it on-site.

“In many cases, school boards choose sites that are out of step with the overall community planning goals and requirements. But the report laid partial blame for runaway sprawl school development on [one] widely accepted standard used to make decisions about where and whether to build a new school: minimum-acreage guidelines.” 

We must not let the pressures of building sprawling “mega-schools” take Dixon from the core of our city.

Read Smart Growth’s article on school siting and case for smaller schools over mega-schools here.

The Case for Preserving Neighborhood Schools

Building “mega-schools” in remote locations rule out the possibility of walking to school. Moving Dixon Middle to the west edge of boundaries (the very west edge of the city) would make it difficult–near impossible–for the majority of students to walk or bike to school in a reasonable amount of time.

National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School” is an in-depth review of why communities should preserve their historic schools in dense, walkable neighborhoods.

Read this publication here.