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Will historic West High School be rebuilt or renovated? Here are the 4 options

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SALT LAKE CITY — Historic, tradition, community, iconic.

Those were the primary words identified by over 1,700 survey respondents asked to describe 100-year-old West High School.

The results of the survey and more were discussed Wednesday night during the final public meeting regarding the feasibility study to rebuild or renovate West High before the architectural team reports to the Salt Lake City School District Board of Education.

West High School in Salt Lake City is pictured on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.
West High School in Salt Lake City is pictured on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, KSL)

The study, once completed, will dictate how much the district will request in the form of a bond to cover the cost of any potential projects, which Salt Lake City residents will ultimately vote on. The district is currently planning to have a bond proposal ready next year — in time for it to be placed on the 2023 ballot.

"It's hard to go into a room and not have somebody there be an alumnus of West High or have students at West High or have a connection to West High if you're in Salt Lake City," said Whitney Ward, principal at VCBO Architecture, the firm the school district hired to conduct the study.

Ward said his firm's main priorities for West High — which is dealing with growth and seismic issues — are maintaining the educational experience of students, honoring the heritage of the historic school, limiting disruption during the construction or improvement process, providing a cost-effective option for residents and hitting the district's sustainability goals.

During Wednesday's meeting, Ward unveiled four concept options that VCBO is considering for West High:

Option 1: Preserve the building

The first option centers around the idea of preserving the iconic, century-old main building that faces 300 West, with all other school buildings being demolished — and replaced over time.

"It's essentially rebuilding the high school in the footprint of the current high school," Ward said.

This option would carry an approximate cost of $412 million and take around eight-and-a-half years to be completed, with students having to utilize portable classrooms for seven years.

Option 2: Preserve the building facade

The second option is similar to the first in the sense that it will preserve the facade of the 1920s-era building that faces 300 West. However, this option also involves tearing down the structure behind the original building.

"Through this process, we have discovered a lot about the existing building — the limitations of the structure and the ability or challenges associated with putting new, mechanical, electrical, technology systems into an older building," Ward said. "We wanted to look at an option to preserve the facade and then essentially build everything new, behind that facade."

The most expensive of the options, the total cost for this scenario would be approximately $415 million with construction expected to last around eight and a half years with students in portable classrooms for five years.

Option 3: A new building to the east

This option presents the biggest change to how West High stands today. While it would preserve the main entrance of the 1921 facade, it would also involve building a new school on the east side of 300 West and demolishing all existing West High buildings on the west of 300 West to make room for the construction of athletic and support facilities.

"One of the things that is very important to note with option three is we are preserving the historic entry of West High School as a key element. Listening to that community feedback around the history of the facility, the history of the building, and really the prominence of that facade, we wanted to try to keep an element of that facade and integrate it into option three," Ward said.

This option would carry a cost of approximately $304 million with three years of construction for the main building and an additional four years for auxiliary buildings. Unlike the previous two options, this wouldn't require students to learn in portable classrooms.

"Because we're building new on the east side of 300 West, that allows the students to stay in their existing academic environment during the predominant construction on the east side. And then in three years, they can move over to the new facility, and then the work on the west side can occur," Ward said, noting that this option allows a shorter and improved experience for students on campus.

Option 4: A new building to the south

The fourth and final option presented by Ward and VCBO Architecture Wednesday features another big change. Under this option, a new school would be built south of where West High currently stands and all existing West High buildings would be demolished as replacement occurs.

Ward described the final option as "the most painful of all of the options from a time perspective."

Building an entirely new school to the south would carry a cost of approximately $386 million with three years of construction for the main academic building and an additional seven years for auxiliary buildings. It wouldn't, however, require the use of portable classrooms.

"The academic tower would be completed in three years, but there would still be a lot of work to get students in and around campus. ... Some potential tunneling to get people moved to the places they need to go on campus over that timeline," Ward said.

Community reaction

Ward said all four options were assessed against the priorities identified by the firm and the district and it "became apparent" the third option was hitting the most targets and goals, thereby, making it the firm's recommendation.

"One of the things that's really great about this site and this campus is that (it) really is a gateway to the city. So there's a great opportunity to heighten and enhance that experience for people coming into Salt Lake City through 300 West and to make West High an even more prominent experience and part of the Salt Lake City urban fabric," Ward said.

Through the over 1,700 survey responses and during a brief question-and-answer period during Wednesday night's meeting, it became apparent that the preservation of history is highly valued by many involved in the reimagining of West High.

"We're losing the Ballpark, we lost Utah Theater (on) downtown Main Street. ... We need to preserve the history of Salt Lake. There's a lot of history here. I was born and raised in Salt Lake," said Lawrence Medina.

He followed that up by voicing his support for the first option, which was met with applause from the audience.

"Let's keep it," he said.


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EducationUtah K-12 educationHistoricUtahSalt Lake County
Logan Stefanich is a reporter with, covering southern Utah communities, education, business and military news.


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