Final West High public meeting focuses on school building’s future

Jan 19, 2023, 7:27 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — Chants from high school cheerleaders echoed off the walls inside West High School Wednesday evening.

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8!” the girls repeated, as they moved in unison to a cheer routine.

As the group practiced in the cafeteria, on the floor below them, the sound of singing and piano drifted out of the choir room and down the locker-lined hallway.

Through the windows, a line of boys could be seen passing footballs back and forth on the football field.

The building was bustling with after-school activity buzz, just as it has been for the past 100 years.

“It’s an iconic building, and it’s an iconic institution,” said Kristian Källåker, executive director of Preservation Utah.

He explained that West High was the first ever high school in Utah, originally called Salt Lake High School. He said the school was established as part of the push for statehood in the 1890s.

The name was changed to West High after East High was built, Källåker said. After bouncing between various locations, the current building was erected in 1921, with construction finishing in 1922. West High has called that spot home ever since.

The façade on 300 West has since become a landmark near downtown Salt Lake City.

“I think it’s a symbol to the community: This was the first high school in Utah,” Källåker said. “It was also designed by prominent architects.”

But the past is clashing with the future.

“The inside is just kind of a jumble of additions,” said Yándary Chatwin, Salt Lake City School District spokesperson. “Every few decades or so another wing was added, so it’s kind of a Frankenstein behind that gorgeous façade on Third West. And it’s not meeting the needs of students right now.”

Chatwin gave the example of how the building doesn’t have enough electrical outlets to keep up with today’s technology.

That’s why the Salt Lake City School District hired an architectural firm to carry out a feasibility study to look at whether the district should build, rebuild or renovate West High.

The firm presented four options at the third and final public meeting Wednesday. Option 1 calls for full preservation of the 1921 building, but demolishing nearly everything else and rebuilding. Option 2 would preserve the entire façade along 300 West, and demolish and rebuild all other buildings. In Option 3, only the façade’s main entry would remain and the district would rebuild all of West High. For Option 4, everything would be demolished and totally rebuilt from scratch.

The price tags range from $300 million to more than $400 million. The firm said options 1 and 2 would be the most expensive, at $412 and $415 million, respectively. Option 3 carries the lowest cost at $304 million and option 4 raises that to $386 million.

All options would take several years and many construction phases to implement.

“We are taking into account the various options the make sense logistically, how much it’s going to cost, what means for students — how many years they might be in portables or if we can manage to continue their education with minimal disruption while building a new building,” Chatwin said.

Many who attended Wednesday’s public meeting, including Preservation Utah, expressed the desire to keep the 100-year-old building in place.

“We at Preservation Utah obviously want to keep the central core of the building, the main hall that we’re standing in right now,” Källåker said, turning to show the long hall in the heart of the school behind him. He said the structure is a five-part building with two entrance wings, two side wings, and a clock tower.

Källåker said the school needs updates and a lot of investment into it, no question about it. He pointed out that the city invested in seismic upgrades.

He also pointed out that other schools, like Ogden High School, have successfully gone through full preservation and kept their historic structures intact.

“We think we can restore, bring back this part of the building,” Källåker said. “And then build the rest of the school up.”

With all three public meetings concluded, Chatwin said the architect firm will next present the four options to the Salt Lake City School District Board of Education in February.

The board will make a decision from there, which Chatwin indicated will mean asking for public support and for taxpayers to sign off on a bond.

She thanked the public for engaging with the school district in the process and said people can still weigh in by emailing their local school board member.

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Final West High public meeting focuses on school building’s future