Commentary: A vote for Granite District’s bond is a vote for more iconic Utah high schools to be demolished

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Granite High School is demolished in Salt Lake City on July 18, 2017.

A recent column in The Salt Lake Tribune by Robert Gehrke acknowledged that many Utahns continue to mourn Granite High School, which fell to the wrecking ball this past summer. After standing for over a century, Granite joined the long list of schools and other “touchstones” of Utah’s past that have been destroyed to make way for twenty-first century “progress.”

Many Tribune readers may not yet know that Utah’s long list of demolished touchstones may soon grow even longer. Should Granite School District get its way in a special bond election on Nov. 7, many more landmark schools — Skyline High School in particular — will fall to the wrecking ball.

According to the Granite School District, the iconic Skyline building must be demolished and replaced because the school is old, unsafe and unable to accommodate contemporary learning. Therefore, Skyline must give way to new buildings capable of facilitating what the district ambiguously refers to as “twenty-first century learning.”

Skyline’s campus obviously needs work. Like any building half a century old, the systems are outdated, interior spaces require modification for new uses and there are safety concerns. The district has put themselves in a difficult position with deferred maintenance that has affected the school’s functionality. The problem is that Granite District has presented only one option for voters to consider — demolition and replacement. As a landmark that was designed by a prominent local architect and internationally celebrated upon its completion, Skyline deserves to be considered for renovation. A sensitive renovation can save the iconic structure while still providing a quality learning environment.

One does not need to be a building engineer or an architect to recognize that Skyline is a singular, irreplaceable structure or that it’s current systems can be renewed, structures reinforced and interiors reconfigured. And there are professionals in Utah that can assist in making this happen within budget.

The district does not believe they need to justify that demolition and replacement is the only option for serving their students and teachers. Granite District also believes they do not need to define what a twenty-first century learning environment is, nor point to any specific school in Utah or across the nation that embodies the characteristics they wish the new Skyline to possess. When asked for greater detail as to the condition of the Skyline campus, the district claimed that the data in the Facilities Condition Index (FCI) is proprietary and not accessible to the public.

Should Granite District prevail at the ballot box in November, a superb example of Utah’s Midcentury heritage will most likely be lost, but much more than a building will vanish with Skyline. Gone will be the physical embodiment of tens-of-thousands of Utahns who came of age in Skyline’s classrooms and halls. Gone will be a monument to Utah’s own coming of age and Salt Lake City’s rapid expansion during the space-age era of American history.

Without a plan or details beyond demolish and rebuild, Granite District is asking for you to write them a blank check. Writing this check will impact Skyline as well as a dozen other schools across the district. Your vote should be a vote in confidence. From what we’ve seen, and what we haven’t, we believe your vote of confidence (a yes vote) should be considered very carefully until Granite District can provide more detailed plans for rebuilding their schools. Should the bond pass, the community should continue to press Granite District to seriously consider rehabilitating the landmark Skyline High School.

David Amott is preservation programs director for Preservation Utah, the organization previously known as Utah Heritage Foundation.

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