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Technology, flexibility and room to grow at new Olympus High

Published April 6, 2013 4:35 pm

A spacious new $75 million school replaces the original Olympus High, built in 1952.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When 1,550 Olympus High School students return from spring break Monday, they'll walk into their new $75 million building — with rooms wired for advanced computer technology, spacious labs with the latest equipment and spaces that range from small spots to collaborate on projects to a 1,400-seat theater.

Once asbestos is removed from the old Olympus High, built in 1952, it will be demolished in late April, and construction will begin on Titan baseball and soccer fields and a building with a competition-size pool. Making the move now will allow sports teams — now being bused to Skyline High for practices — to begin playing in the fall.

Olympus Principal Mark Manning, who graduated from the school in 1976, plans to have an alumni room at the new building.

"We're working to bring whatever we can over here," Manning said this week in a sparsely furnished front office. "There has been a lot of mixed emotions for a lot of people."

The Granite School District — one of the largest, and most diverse, districts in the state — is using a voter-approved $256 million construction bond to build the new Olympus High in Holladay and a new Granger High in West Valley City, which will open in the fall. Granger High will add ninth-graders for the first time.

Granite officials also will rebuild three more schools, add three new ones and install air conditioning in all 51.

Manning, with district and community leaders, helped design the new Olympus High, prompted by steady enrollment as well as changes in technology and teaching methods. It has three stories because of the limited land available.

With 430,000 square feet, it is about twice as large as the old building and has a 1,750-student capacity, about 200 more students than attend now. With new families moving into the neighborhood, Manning said, officials expect enrollment to remain steady.

'It all fits together' • Olympus High's construction reflects changes in teaching philosophies. Architects — along with parents, teachers and school administrators — envisioned small, specialized learning environments within the larger building, known as school-within-the-school design.

Teachers will have offices where they can meet with students, similar to professors' offices in colleges. Classrooms are different sizes, with some intended for small seminar groups and some for larger lecture classes — a more flexible arrangement than in the past.

New schools must meet current — and anticipate the future — needs of teachers and students, administrators said. Roofs need to be replaced every 20 years. Heating and cooling systems often need to be replaced after 40 years. But the design must be adaptable so a school can be useful even longer, they agreed.

Olympus science labs are larger than before, to accommodate the latest tools for conducting experiments. A new pre-engineering program will have room to accommodate large draft tables and model-making devices.

Classes will be clustered in the building to reflect the school's academic structure, said Olympus Assistant Principal Josh LeRoy.

"With our CTE [career and technical education] programs, the graphics, auto shop, culinary arts, medical and pre-engineering, there's space so that the programs relate to the academics," LeRoy said. "There are the collaboration rooms, the lecture hall, it all fits together."

The 164-seat lecture hall includes a high-tech projection system so teachers can collaborate with other classes and schedule professional development.

The 1,400-seat theater will be available for community groups as well as students, LeRoy said. There's a smaller black box theater, a coat check area and scene shop, among other features.

"We're looking to have a grand piano [in the lobby]," LeRoy said while touring the theater in a construction hat. "I think people are really going to like this."

Julie Gardner, who teaches a graphic design course to more than 200 students, has a new lab with 40 Apple computers and other equipment.

She seemed to sum up the sentiment of many of the Olympus teachers when she said: "Everything will have a place now."

Memories and moving on • In November 2009, there were few detractors to the $256 million construction and upgrade bond, which was supported by the Utah Taxpayer Association, the teacher's union, PTA, a coalition of business leaders, Salt Lake County and the cities of West Valley, South Salt Lake and Holladay.

"It's very much a community-based high school," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, who taught English at Olympus High for 33 years. "Families are moving back into the community where they grew up."

She recently toured the new building and noted "there's lots of light, and it's wired for all the devices."

The old building "was not seismically safe and would crumble, that brick," Spackman said. "It wasn't built for 21st century learning, [with] only two outlets per room."

Although a professional moving company was hired, most Olympus students have been willing to help out — and wanted a peek at the new building.

"I'm excited," said junior Rozhin Torabi, 16. "The school is huge. It's way bigger than this one, and it's more beautiful."

But her friend, Nadia Tofangchi, isn't at all eager for the move.

The sophomore moved to the United States from Iran last year. School here is already different from Iran, and she's not looking forward to yet another change.

"This school we're in right now is my first school in the United States," Tofangchi said, walking the hallways of old Olympus last week. "I don't want to move from this school."

Mark Smith, a district employee who's been working on the move, said everything's been going smoothly so far. He's excited for the kids, but has his own memories attached to the building.

"My dad taught here for 23 years, so I'm sad to see that part go," Smith said, "but it's good for the students because the new school is so high tech."

Parent and Olympus alumna Melisa Nelson said she's happy her children will get to experience the new building.

"Maybe the sadness will hit later when it's actually gone," Nelson said. "Of course, there's nostalgia and memories, but you keep those with you. You don't have to have the building to hold onto those."

rparker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @rayutah

Tribune reporter Lisa Schencker contributed to this story. —

Opening Olympus High

An open house to show the public the new Olympus High School will be held on Wednesday, April 17, starting at 6:30 p.m. The new school is located just north of the existing campus at 4055 South 2300 East.

Four Distinguished Alumni Recipients will be named and honored. For more details call the school at 385-646-5400.