The parents, teachers and students of Uintah Elementary School had almost a unified message for the Salt Lake Board of Education Tuesday Night: We want a new school.
Only one parent rose to urge renovation of the 75-year-old elementary school, 1227 S. 1500 East, which has numerous life-safety, functional and seismic problems.The audience cheered when teacher Miriam Gibbs proclaimed, "These kids deserve a facility that represents the 21st century, not the 19th century."
Student body president Ryan Parker said his informal poll of teachers and students found them unanimously supporting a new school. Renovation would be more costly, and the lives of students would be disrupted by sending them to neighboring schools during the remodeling.
"Is it worth hundreds of dollars and sending kids to others schools to save a historical landmark? I don't think so," the boy said.
Parents first lobbied the school board in November, pointing out the building's numerous flaws, including inadequate fire exits from the building's second floor that had been cited by the state fire marshal.
The board commissioned a $10,000 study of the building in an effort to determine its future, while at the same time correcting some immediate life-safety issues.
The consultants said the old school could be renovated by gutting the interior and preserving the exterior at a cost of $4.7 million. Or the district could build a new school on the present school grounds at a cost of $4 million.
The board toured the school Tuesday night and then held its regular meeting in the school auditorium to gather opinions.
Sixth-grader Megan Story said the classrooms are so small that "we have no space to work on special projects."
Parent Jeff Edwards urged the board to make certain that any new building be designed to fit the architectural flavor of the neighborhood. His sentiments were echoed by many speakers.
"Don't turn it into another (architectural) disaster like what happened to Hawthorne (Elementary School)," he said.
A PTA leader from nearby Bonneville Elementary School worried that her school would be overcrowded with Uintah students if the board decides to renovate.
But business administrator W. Gary Harmer said that the district would most likely bus Uintah students to its largest elementary, Highland Park, which was originally built as a junior high. Highland Park could accommodate hundreds of extra students by going to double sessions, he said.
The board took no action Tuesday, taking only public comment.
But parent Randy Green, spokesman for the school's building committee, urged the board to make a decision by its March 5 meeting.
In a related matter, Superintendent John W. Bennion suggested that the board hire a pollster to see if Salt Lake property taxpayers are willing to pay for the $100 million seismic retrofitting or rebuilding of the city's 35 schools.
The poll results could help the board determine if it should hold a referendum or if the board could go ahead and approve the construction projects without a vote, he said.