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SOUTH SALT LAKE — When Merili Carter attended Granite High School in the 1990s, she did all she could to preserve memories all students could remember forever as a member of the school’s yearbook staff.
Now 20 years later, Carter, who heads a group of the school's alumni, is doing all she can to preserve the actual school.
Granite High closed in 2009. Since then, the school has remained vacant despite various attempts to transform it into something else. It lies on the corner of 3300 South and 500 East, with its windows boarded and surrounding grass overgrown. However, the school remains structurally sound.
Carter wants to turn it into anything — anything really. As long as the buildings aren’t demolished along with those memories.
“Everything that the buildings are made up of should not just go and be buried into the earth in a landfill,” Carter said. “There are so many amazing parts to those buildings that should be saved.”
However, the campus buildings are slated to be demolished in the next few months. The property was purchased by Wasatch Development Group after roughly eight years on the market in January. Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said the district is still in the process of selecting a contractor to tear the buildings down.
That process, which will take at least 45 days once it starts as crews remove asbestos from the buildings, is expected to be completed in the next few months.
What makes Granite High so special?
Last week, Carter submitted a proposal with the National Parks Service to designate the campus as a local historical site. A Board of State History hearing about the designation is slated for April 20, according to Utah Division of History preservation coordinator Roger Roper.
Carter knows her history when it comes to the school. She researched the historical timeline of the school for a book about the high school last year.
The buildings itself are quite old. Granite High School opened in 1907 and had an illustrious 100-year lifespan. It was named because of the granite rock found in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Carter notes. The first football game played and first graduate of the school came in 1908. The Farmers nickname came from the farmland that once surrounded the area.
The Library building, also known as the “L Building,” was completed in 1912. The first yearbook printed in 1910 was sealed in the southeast cornerstone of the building.
In 1916, the “S Building” — the school’s science building was completed. The building was made out of red brick and white stone trimmings.
In 1922, a large granite piece known as “the Granite Rock” was added and it became a popular meeting area for the students.
The school received significant upgrades during the New Deal era in the late 1930s, Roper said. Among those, the “A building” — a theater and gymnasium, which Carter notes was paid in part by the Public Works Administration of San Francisco.
A cafeteria and music rooms were added in 1970.
The school eventually closed in 2009 due to low enrollment and budget problems.
Famous alumni include: Former U.S. Sen. Frank Moss, LDS apostles James E. Faust and Neal A. Maxwell, former federal judge David Winder and former BYU president Cecil Samuelson, among others. The late legendary BYU football coach LaVell Edwards began his coaching career at Granite High in the 1950s.
Even if the buildings are declared historical sites, Roper said it doesn’t mean the buildings will be saved. He said that authority lies more with local governments and local registry of historical status.
“This doesn’t have any kind of bearing on what the owner can do with the property,” Roper said. “It’s an honorific designation.”
Horsley added that as the owners, Wasatch Development Group would still have control of what to do with the property. KSL reached out to the development company but did not receive comment.
“I think they’re under the impression that it’s going to somehow going to preserve the buildings,” Horsley said. “At this point in time, with all due respect to this organization, this property has been for sale for eight years and it finally closed, and now they’re interested in purchasing it and preserving the buildings.”
Nearing an end
The purchase of the old high school property was in the ballpark of $10 million. Carter argues that the building could still be used for community needs. She pictures a small retail area much like Trolley Square or a charter school for a lesser cost than demolishing and rebuilding.
The Granite High alumni group Carter heads, along with the Utah Arts Alliance, had negotiated with Wasatch Development Group, but those talks ended last week, Carter said.
“There are so many people that would be willing to volunteer their time or work at a reduced rate to save these buildings, so to find out they won’t even talk to us about these buildings is just mind-boggling,” Carter said.
Wasatch Property’s purchase on Jan. 23 came after years of attempts others had at purchasing the campus land.
After the school closed, South Salt Lake officials tried to purchase the buildings after the closure. Two separate bond measures put up by voters failed, including one plan to turn the campus into a town square. A plan to purchase the campus as a movie set also failed.
Wasatch Development purchased the campus on Jan. 23 and have three years to make that payment as the land is divvied into sections, Horsley said.
The campus space is expected to turn into a residential and commercial area. Dozens of new homes are expected to be built in the backend of the land, where old bleachers currently stand. The front section is still a work in process.
Carter said the Wasatch Development officials told her a grocery store is planned for the front end of the plot.
If Granite High indeed is torn down, Horsley said alumni will still get a chance to claim a piece of its history.
Horsley said the district will inform alumni of opportunities to salvage pieces of the building, such as bricks, as a momento. Notification of that will come about 30 days before demolition process begins when that date is set.