A bit of Utah history comes down for a new charter school

Published: Thursday, March 13 2014 7:05 p.m. MDT

American International School of Utah Middle School Principal Mark Smith speaks at a demolition ceremony where the towers of the 49th Street Galleria and the former Utah Fun Dome are being torn down to make way for AISU in Murray on Thursday, March 13, 2014.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

MURRAY — Andrew Jones remembers entering at the base of the glass towers at Murray's 49th Street Galleria as a youth to play miniature golf and laser tag.

"The atmosphere inside was always really great," he said. "The old-time feel, it had a really comprehensive feel of fun. I've always had a fond place in my heart for it."

The towers were ceremoniously demolished Thursday in preparation for a charter school set to take over the building in July.

Jones, who will be teaching at the school, said the ceremony brought both nostalgia and excitement.

"It's exciting to see the changes, but it's hard to see the towers go," he said.

Over the course of its 30-year lifetime, the building at 4998 South Galleria Drive was home to the 49th Street Galleria; the Utah Fun Dome, which housed a go-kart track, a bowling alley and other amusement facilities; Salt Lake Valley College; and the Grand Buffet. Most recently, the building housed an animal clinic.

The glass towers will be replaced with large windows for the school's entrance and an atrium. The building's interior is being remodeled to house a gymnasium, an auditorium, science labs and classrooms. The construction is expected to be complete early July.

American International School of Utah superintendent Michael Farley said the school will introduce a unique framework to the state's education system.

"For me, AISU is the future," he said. "We believe the very structure of schools has inherent problems. And for us, removing these glass towers is symbolic of this shift from the old structure of education to a new structure — a structure built around the needs and the potential of individual students."

AISU's competency-based curriculum will use technology to create a "student-centered operation, not a teacher-centered operation," according to Mark Smith, AISU's middle school principal.

"Imagine if banks decided that ATM technology was to be used by the bank tellers and not the customers," he said. "That's what education is doing. There are all kinds of technology tools around that people can use in classrooms. But the model has to be changed. It can't be a teacher standing in front of a class using technology, it has to be students using technology."

Classes will begin in August for the 1,000 K-12 students, 400 of whom have already been admitted through a lottery system. AISU expects roughly 20 percent of its high schoolers to be from overseas.

Murray resident Jeff Scarborough says the building's transformation will help gentrify the neighborhood.

"I remember being here when they built the Galleria. Now the whole thing is gutted out," he said. "I think it's a great location for a charter school."

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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