At new Granite Library, Utah’s past and present meet

On the site of a former high school, library officials honor the history while creating a new community hub.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Grand Opening for the new Granite Library on 3300 South, is scheduled to for Friday, July 15, 2022.

When officials at the Salt Lake County Library system started planning for what would become the new Granite Library in South Salt Lake, library spokeswoman Sara Neal said, the architect and librarians asked the community a question:

“What kind of library do you need?”

“Really every branch is designed so that it’s taking what the community around it needs,” Neal said. The location — at 3300 South and 500 East, on the site of the old Granite High School — is central to many people in South Salt Lake, and there was “obviously a community need to have this as a community space.”

That community space, scheduled to open on Friday, July 15, is a 33,000-square-foot building that incorporates high-tech book sorting equipment, sustainable energy and water features, references to the history made when the space was a high school, and collections of both new books and those archived from two now-shuttered library branches.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Grand Opening for the new Granite Library on 3300 South, is scheduled to for Friday, July 15, 2022.

A central point for students

The Granite Library, one of 18 in the Salt Lake County Library system, covers the territory that was once served by the small Calvin S. Smith Library branch on 3300 South — which opened in 1943 and closed last year — and the Columbus Branch on 500 East, which was shuttered in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic hastened the closure of the Columbus branch, Neal said. Other branches in the system, set up in standalone buildings, were able to provide some services in fall 2020 — but the Columbus Community Center, in which the Columbus branch was housed, stayed closed. The county permanently closed the branch a year earlier than planned, Neal said.

The Columbus branch, at 2350 S. 500 East in the central part of South Salt Lake, served a sizable immigrant population living in nearby apartment complexes. (South Salt Lake’s population is 24% Hispanic and 10% Asian, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.)

On any given day, after school hours, the computers at Columbus Library were in use by children doing homework or playing games. Many of those students didn’t have access to the internet at home during the pandemic.

The new Granite library sits at the center of the massive Granite School District, which stretches from Magna to Holladay. School populations on the district’s west side have been booming, while schools on the east side are leveling off after years of decline, district officials said in May. The district is considering redrawing boundaries for its elementary and high schools, but any decision wouldn’t take effect until fall 2023 at the earliest, a district spokesperson said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The grand opening for the new Granite Library on 3300 South in South Salt Lake is scheduled for Friday, July 15, 2022.

Amongst the new white towering shelves at Granite, there’s a kid’s space, a dedicated teen space and individual study and meeting rooms. “A lot of people use the library for meetings, whether it’s business meetings or study sessions, interviews,” Neal said. “Any type of thing can happen at the library.”

The new Granite branch will feature books from both the Columbus and Smith collections — but the majority of the books there will be brand new and never circulated before, Neal said. A library that size, she said, usually carries between 85,000 and 100,000 books.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A historic image of Granite High School's basketball team adorns a meeting-room wall at the new Granite Library, on 3300 South in South Salt Lake. The grand opening for the library is scheduled for Friday, July 15, 2022.

Preserving Granite’s history

The combining of old and new books is just one example of the Granite branch’s merging of past and present.

The outside of the building features a concrete wall that follows the original brick line of the high school, Neal noted. The bricks from the original school were given to alumni when the school was demolished in 2017.

Also outside the building: A sculpture of irises created by artist Day Christensen, whose great-grandmother was a Granite student, Neal said.

The old Granite High — which opened in 1907 and closed in 2009 — produced some notable alumni, including former U.S. Sen. Frank Moss (for whom the federal courthouse on Salt Lake City’s Main Street is named), animation pioneer and retired Pixar president Ed Catmull, and several pro football greats: Ed Christensen in the 1930s, Golden Richards and Gordon Jolley in the ‘70s, and Rick Parros in the ‘80s.

Granite alums might recognize some of the touches inside the new library. A line of study rooms, leading to a large meeting room, is named “Farmer’s Way” — a nod to the school’s mascot. The words to the Granite High fight song are featured on the glass doors, along with images of the school band, and basketball and cheer teams from different decades of the school’s history. And in one large meeting room, the floor was preserved from the school’s gymnasium.

The library has installed a glass display case from the school’s alumni association, featuring school regalia and historical artifacts.

The high school’s seal also was preserved, and hangs prominently on a wall in the library. It once was laid into the floor, and “apparently, if you stepped on it, you had to get a toothbrush and clean it because nobody was allowed to step on the seal,” Neal said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The old seal for Granite High School is preserved at the new Granite Library, on 3300 South in South Salt Lake City. The library's grand opening is scheduled for Friday, July 15, 2022.

What’s new at the library

The library will feature a new automated sorter belt, which helps librarians sort books quicker.

“The books are RFID-tagged, so that it’s easier to keep track of them, so a book will go on here and it’s actually sorted into the correct section [bin] of the library that it needs to go in,” Neal said. For a county library system that moves around 9 tons of material a day, on three different delivery trucks, that kind of automated sorting is a bonus, she said.

Familiar business resources — copying, faxing, printing — will be available, Neal said, “for people that don’t necessarily have Wi-Fi or a computer at home.”

A dedicated creator space is set to house 3D-printing services, robotics, virtual reality technology, full access to the Adobe Creative Suite, a laser cutter, sublimation prints, and machines for sewing and embroidery. Such items, Neal said, are “super-useful to have, but they can be cost prohibitive.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) An audio-visual room, with greenscreen studio, is one of the amenities at the new Granite Library, on 3300 South in South Salt Lake. The grand opening is scheduled for Friday, July 15, 2022.

An audio-visual room — equipped with a greenscreen room and recording equipment for video, podcasts and music — can be booked online.

Outside, the library boasts an amphitheater, which can be used for library or community programs, Neal said. The library also will be the only one in the system with an outdoor playground, she said. And the sidewalk is equipped to accommodate several food trucks.The new library is a LEED gold facility, taking part in a program from the U.S. Green Building Council (a private nonprofit) that champions sustainable building practices.

Among the sustainable practices the library has: Solar panels on the roof, and waterwise landscaping planning — with sections of fake grass, clumps of long grasses that are only cut a few times a year, and wild strawberry plants that retain water and feed birds.

“Any water that comes onto the property, doesn’t go into stormwater,” Neal said. “It’s actually contained on the property. It can just seep down into the ground and be efficient that way.”

The Granite Branch of the Salt Lake County Library, at 3331 S. 500 East, South Salt Lake, will play host to a grand opening, Friday, July 15, from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The event will start with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, with speeches from Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and others. After that, the day will include crafts, games and activities for kids and adults. The event is free to attend.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The new Granite Library on 3300 South in South Salt Lake is scheduled to have its grand opening on Friday, July 15, 2022.