Orem • A decision on the possible closure of two Orem elementary schools has been delayed until November, after the Alpine school board opted Tuesday to allow more time to review its plans and hear more public input.
Dozens of parents, teachers and residents voiced concerns at a meeting at Orem Jr. High School Tuesday evening, many worried that plans to close Geneva and Hillcrest elementary schools were being rushed to a vote — originally slated for Oct. 10. Board members instead opted to pump the breaks after hearing more than two hours of public comment, setting a new date of Nov. 14.
“In the conversations we’ve had, we could see that there are some things that we want to change and items that need to be changed,” said board member JoDee Sundberg, whose district spans the Orem area. “You have to start from somewhere.”
A revised proposal on the closures is now set to be released by Oct. 6, said Alpine School District spokesperson Kimberly Bird, and updated information will appear on the district’s website.
Sundberg said the board also plans to hold several focus groups to discuss alternatives to closure and other possible changes.
The potential closures are part of a larger consolidation plan for Orem schools to address falling enrollment, aging buildings and limited financial resources. Suncrest, Bonneville and Scera Park elementary schools also could be affected by potential downsizing, district officials say.
The current plan would close Geneva and split its more than 350 students between Bonneville and Suncrest schools next school year, while Hillcrest and Scera Park schools would be combined in a new, larger building by August 2020.
But many of those affected first heard of the district’s intentions for Geneva and Hillcrest on Sept. 13, with an email sent to parents, faculty and staff by Assistant Superintendent John Patten. Parents have also since been asked to provide feedback on the proposal through surveys and by attending community meetings held at each of the relevant schools.
Residents voiced concerns Tuesday that the closures were being rushed, amid fears about its impact on students’ academic performance and the communities surrounding Geneva and Hillcrest.
Pointing to Geneva Elementary’s predominantly low-income and transient student population, parents and teachers said splitting up its student body could damage students’ progress. While many said they weren’t opposed to closing the aging school, built in 1948, they urged board members to reconsider separating students from teachers they consider family.
“Under the current proposal,” one parent said, “Geneva gets nothing.”
The prospect of Hillcrest’s closure appeared to be even more divisive. Many who spoke Tuesday spoke of their personal bond with the school and how they feared closing the school could damage a sense of community identity.
But the school consolidation’s promise of smaller class sizes, increased class offerings and more resources for teacher resources is enticing to many parents, including Julie Olsen, whose children attend Scera Park. But Olsen also said the lack of information on district plans gave her pause.
Hillcrest parent Alex Dunn echoed Olsen’s sentiments and said the lack of transparency regarding on the financial side of the plan has also raised some red flags.
“With more time and the right data, I might be supportive of consolidation,” Dunn told board members. “But there has not been enough time or clarity on important questions on this issue for me to make a decision on this.”
Sundberg said the board now plans to focus on ways to keep Geneva’s teachers and students together and alternative uses for the Hillcrest property after its potential closure, such as green space, to further Hillcrest’s sense of community.