Ogden • With the economy tanking, 2007 was not a good time to launch a fundraising drive to renovate a public school.
But loyal alumni and supportive locals came through, donating $9 million in private money to restore Ogden High's iconic auditorium to its original 1930s art deco style and upgrade it to current-day seismic-safety standards.
The result was so stunning that Hughes General Contractors was presented with the Alliant Build America Award earlier this month for its work on the project. The North Salt Lake company won the nationwide award for a renovation project completed in 2012 in the under-$10 million category.
Dan Pratt, a Hughes official, called the project a "community triumph."
"Without the support of the people of Ogden," he said, "this restoration would have never taken place."
In addition to making donations, voters in 2006 had approved a bond that provided $49 million, which is coming out of taxpayer pockets, to renovate the rest of the high school. The auditorium was not covered by the bond, so the Ogden School Foundation launched a capital campaign.
Alan Hall, a Class of '63 alum and a co-chairman of the fundraising Catalyst Committee, said some were suggesting that the school be torn down and replaced with a new one but renovation advocates refused to hear of it.
"It's a major architectural wonder," he said of his alma mater. "There's nothing like it."
About 1,200 donors gave to the Ogden High School Capital Campaign, including many from the large pool of alumni, with donations ranging from a single dollar to $1.2 million. Ogden High Principal Stacey Briggs wasn't surprised about the success of the drive, which hit its $9 million goal in August 2011.
"The alumni here are like nothing I've ever seen," Briggs said. "They're committed to the success of the building and the students."
Janis Vause, Ogden School Foundation executive director, said the level of giving was unprecedented for a public school. Donations flowed in from across the country and internationally, she said.
The original construction of the "million-dollar school" began in 1935 and was funded with a Public Works Administration grant and a local bond issue. The first students arrived in 1937 and the first graduating class was in 1938.
The building had art deco features, including metal grilles on the front doors, decorative masonry in the rotundas and light fixtures in the library. Among the materials used were marble and black walnut. The auditorium's walls, ceilings and proscenium arch contained decorative plaster with 68 colors (including 16 shades of green) and a rosette where the original painters had signed their names.
In restoring the auditorium, the contractors used as much of the original material as possible including plaster, woodwork, gold leafing and banisters and made reproductions of the features that were missing or too badly damaged to be repaired. A large part of the effort was putting in seismic reinforcing without damaging the ornate walls and ceiling.
The finished product is a mix of old and new such as rows of library books on the original shelves alongside rows of computers that retains the 1930s look.
Hall, founder of MarketStar Corp. and chairman of the committee planning his class's 50th anniversary celebration this summer, is looking forward to the reunion.
"Their eyes will pop out" when they see the renovated school, he said of his classmates.
Current students are enthralled with Ogden High's new/old look.
"We love it," senior Lihuen Zlatohlavek said. "We're proud of our school."
Raising money and the roof
To read more about the campaign to raise funds to renovate Ogden High's iconic auditorium, visit restoreogdenhigh.org. To watch a time-lapse video of the roof construction, visit http://youtu.be/8a53Ww5Eka8.