After another round of public comment concerning the transformation of the former Harris Elementary School into a drug rehabilitation center, the Tooele City Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for the property during its meeting Wednesday night.
The applicant, Skull Valley Health Care, requested the CUP for the 9.42-acre property to allow the former school building to be used as an outpatient and residential treatment facility. The property was rezoned to MR-8 multi-family residential by the Tooele City Council at its June 5 meeting.
According to the city staff report, the applicant plans to have 120 beds at the facility, split evenly between men and women. The school building will be renovated to create housing, upgrade bathrooms and improve the exterior of the facility.
During the public hearing prior to the planning commission decision, residents brought forth concerns about the facility, as well as support for treatment options in the community.
Resident Ken Frailey called the treatment facility a terrible idea and said he’d rather see the school property used for building nicer homes to revitalize the neighborhood.
“To put this type of facility right smack dab in the middle of a residential area, right in the middle of Tooele, is just outrageous to me,” Frailey said. “I don’t begrudge people finding treatment, but you don’t do this right in the middle of a residential area.”
Another nearby property owner, Thomas Curtis, said he spoke with his neighbors who had concerns about existing problems with people cutting across the fields at the school and onto their property being exacerbated by the facility. He said he agreed there’s a need for a rehab facility, but there needs to be fencing to control who can get in and out of the property.
“So I guess my biggest concern would be, is there a way to block off or make sure that it is a safer area for the community as well?” Curtis said. “Safety is king for me and my family.”
Another resident, 16-year-old Jaron Lagasse, made an appeal to allow people to better themselves through the drug rehabilitation facility.
“I firmly believe the human race is generally for second chances,” Lagasse said. “If we don’t let people have second chances to better themselves, what kind of people are we?”
Residents also asked why a facility no longer in use by the Tooele County School District was being proposed for a treatment facility.
The school district cited Harris Elementary as aging and inefficient in its decision to close it and build a new elementary school. The needs for the building included an American with Disabilities Act upgrade to the school and playground, restroom and seismic upgrades, and updates to power in the classrooms.
David Gumucio, who is the real estate agent for the school district and the buyer, said the applicant and partner Tyson Dixon, the CEO of Renaissance Ranch Treatment Centers, are willing to mitigate any concerns with the building and make significant improvements to the property.
Commissioner Shauna Bevan asked about the fencing concerns by neighbors, with additional concerns about a gap in the fencing brought up by Commission Chairman Tony Graf. Gumucio said his understanding is the entire property was fenced off and he believed the buyer had a contingency plan for repairs to the fencing, if needed.
Commissioner Tyson Hamilton made a motion to approve the CUP, citing a desire to see the school building preserved and reused, which was seconded by Commissioner Chris Sloan. Sloan suggested an amendment to add a condition for repair to the fence, which was added to Hamilton’s motion. The motion passed by a unanimous vote.