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Arts nonprofit Pioneer Craft House vacating historic schoolhouse after city issued eviction notice

South Salt Lake officials say the benefits that the arts education center has been getting outweigh what it has given to residents.

(Julie Hirschi | Special to The Tribune) Pioneer Craft House is photographed in South Salt Lake in 2019. The nonprofit has been told by the city that it must vacate the historic Scott School, which has served as its headquarters since 1950.

Pioneer Craft House spent Thursday vacating the historic schoolhouse that has housed its community art classes and studio space since 1950, following an eviction notice issued by the city of South Salt Lake on Monday.

Jeff Hatch, chairman of the Pioneer Craft House nonprofit’s board, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday that he received the eviction notice at his home, and that the nonprofit had until Thursday to leave. South Salt Lake also issued a fact sheet Monday that confirmed eviction proceedings have begun, alleging the nonprofit “does not have a valid lease.”

The city claims the nonprofit’s classes are pricey and not well attended by South Salt Lake residents.

Pioneer Craft House, at 3271 S. 500 East in South Salt Lake on the historic Scott School campus, has been offering arts and crafts classes to Utahns, many of them veterans, for decades. This isn’t the first time the program has clashed with the city.

“We’ve had a long history of problems with South Salt Lake,” Hatch said.

Those problems began after the city, with Salt Lake County’s help, purchased the property from the school district. In 2008, South Salt Lake and the nonprofit entered into a 10-year lease, which called for the nonprofit to pay $1 annually as rent. The city attempted to end the lease in 2012 and evict the nonprofit, and Pioneer Craft House filed a federal lawsuit in dispute.

The city won that lawsuit in 2017, but didn’t move to evict the nonprofit until this year.

Hatch said the city refused his requests for a lease when he offered to have the program pay monthly rent of $1,500. He said the city told Pioneer Craft House it couldn’t subsidize a lease for a nonprofit.

The city says the nonprofit has already underpaid its rent on the 16,000-square-foot space for years without providing sufficient community benefits.

South Salt Lake Urban Design Director Sharen Hauri said the city wants to use the property as a community center. She said that vision would include art classes. The classes hosted by Pioneer Craft House have been expensive and haven’t been well attended by South Salt Lake residents, said Hauri. She said the nonprofit also doesn’t offer a very wide array of class options.

Hauri said the city wanted $30,000 in monthly rent from the nonprofit, adding that an audit by the city found that the nonprofit has the means to raise the money. She said the city also offered a lower rent if the nonprofit made the classes more affordable, but said there still wasn’t a lot of participation from residents.

Hatch said the program had over 1,900 students in the year before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and estimated about 250 of them were from South Salt Lake.

South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood said in a statement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting that it is the city’s job to provide quality, affordable services to residents. She said the city has “lost over one hundred thousand dollars” in rent over the past decade.

“We also have an obligation to our taxpayers to use public facilities in ways that benefit our residents,” she said. “Pioneer Craft House has literally made this job impossible.”

Not everyone at the meeting was happy to see the arts nonprofit go.

South Salt Lake resident Tammi Diaz said it’s wrong for the city to evict Pioneer Craft House. The art classes and opportunities for socialization are important to veterans and people with disabilities, according to Diaz, who said she suffered a traumatic brain injury from an auto-pedestrian accident in 1995.

“If I didn’t have my support group and my art ... where would I be?” she asked.

The arts center hasn’t been able to hold in-person classes since March 2020 due to the pandemic.

A notice on the center’s website says students currently in a class can be offered substitute time when classes convene again, receive a refund, or donate their payment.

Hatch said he thinks the nonprofit kicked the “hornet’s nest” as coronavirus restrictions loosened. He said the nonprofit asked if it could get into the building to clean its space ahead of the official date for city buildings to reopen. He said the answer was no. Hatch said the eviction notice was served about a week after the building reopened.

But Hauri said the eviction came this week because the city finally has full control over the property. Since the county helped facilitate the title transfer from the school district, it had partial ownership over the school for the past decade.

Hatch said Pioneer Craft House is looking for a new space to hold its classes. However, the search is complicated by the fact that a lot of room is needed for equipment such as looms for weaving and kilns for pottery.

The most suitable space so far won’t be vacated until the end of the year, he said, meaning the nonprofit will have to figure out how to operate without a permanent location for the next eight months.

Correction • May 13, 3:06 p.m.: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood.

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