South Salt Lake wants more time to decide future of Granite High School property

Published: Thursday, July 12 2012 6:11 p.m. MDT

Granite High campus Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. The city of South Salt Lake is trying to decide if they should buy the old Granite High campus from the Granite School District to transform into a community center.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SOUTH SALT LAKE — City leaders are asking for more time to decide whether South Salt Lake is able to purchase the old Granite High School property.

Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said city officials have requested an extension of the lease/purchase agreement that's set to expire at the end of this month.

"We're having some ongoing discussions with South Salt Lake about extending the current agreement," Horsley said.

The city already has invested nearly $500,000 in taxpayer funds on the project and would lose that money if the agreement is not extended. Mayor Cherie Wood said the extension would run through Nov. 30.

"We're currently looking at options to develop or preserve that property," Wood said. "We just needed a little more time."

The contract between the city and school district signed in April 2011 included a $100,000 nonrefundable down payment and monthly rent payments of nearly $29,000 for 16 months. The city also has been responsible for utility bills on the property.

South Salt Lake entered into the agreement in hopes that residents would authorize the purchase by supporting a bond measure last November.

City leaders proposed reusing the 105-year-old school and transforming its 28-acre campus into a civic center for arts, recreation and education, saying two years' worth of public input, studies and surveys showed that's what most residents wanted.

Following a pair of recounts, the $25 million bond proposal failed by just five votes — 1,006 to 1,001. Since then, city leaders have been exploring other options for purchasing the former high school.

Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored a bill during the 2012 Legislature designed to open some additional funding options for South Salt Lake to purchase the property.

The legislation, SB273, amended Utah's code to allow government entities to partner with the private sector in the purchase and development of surplus property, like the Granite High School campus.

"When the bond failed, we put our heads together to try to find a way that we could hopefully move forward with an option to preserve this community asset in way that is reflective of the desire of the voters to not issue that bond," McAdams said.

The bill passed unanimously in both houses during the legislative session and was signed into law March 15.

Since then, the city has been working to find interested parties in the private sector to partner on the project, South Salt Lake City Councilman Boyd Marshall said.

"We've been trying," Marshall said.

Wood said city leaders are hopeful that a deal will get done.

"It's a nice, key piece of property in our city," she said. "We're hopeful that we can preserve green space and as much of the property as we can moving forward in a public/private partnership."

The Granite Board of Education is expected to vote on the proposed contract extension at its next meeting, Aug. 7. The July 31 ending date on the existing contract is a "soft deadline," Horsley said, meaning an extension doesn't need to be formalized before that date.

"We're acting in good faith with South Salt Lake," he said. "We're not going to hold them hostage on their current investment and make them renegotiate with another down payment or something like that, simply because the deadline has passed."

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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