1 of 5
Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Located on Canyon Road in downtown Salt Lake City, historic Ottinger Hall in the Avenues has been remodeled and updated to become the latest YouthCity site.

When the summer session for Salt Lake City's YouthCity Program begins Monday, a new program site will open its doors for the first time.

After undergoing a six-month renovation, historic Ottinger Hall, 233 Canyon Road, will become the city's latest site to house the program. Interest in the site has already been high with the program filling up several weeks in advance.

"We've had so much interest in this program (and) that right there shows that there's a need for it. I'm already full . . . and it's a brand new program," said Dallas Russell, Ottinger Hall program coordinator, a few weeks prior to the start of the summer session. "Also, it's just an amazing part of the city. There's a lot of history here. I will be incorporating some of the documentary arts (and) environmental education into my program. I think this will be an ideal location for that."

Ottinger Hall was the social hall of the Veteran Volunteer Fireman's Association for many years.

But on June 12, YouthCity moves in as the new tenant.

The YouthCity Program provides fun, enriching activities for young people during time spent out of school. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson created the program after taking office in 2000 as a way to provide more after-school programs for local youths. Since then the program has expanded to become citywide to meet the growing needs of Salt Lake City's young people and families.

YouthCity already has five other sites, including Central City Recreation Center, the Sorenson Multicultural Center, Liberty Park, Fairmont Park and Glendale Intermediate School. The program offers after-school and summer arts education, employment, sports and government- and community-involvement activities.

Janet Wolf, director of youth programs for Salt Lake City, said Ottinger Hall is an ideal location for the newest program site because it fits two of the program's criteria: an empty building located in a neighborhood. Wolf said the city wants program sites to be community-based.

In each of the other locations, neighboring businesses have become partners with the program. In the Liberty Park location, the Chase House and Tracy Aviary are both partners. In Fairmont Park, the Sugarhouse Boys and Girls Club and swimming pool have teamed with the program. The Salt Lake Rotary Club paired with YouthCity for the Ottinger Hall location.

"The Rotary Club has invested time and money in Memory Grove and City Creek Canyon," Wolf said "This building is in honor of their centennial. . . . They contributed money, labor, heart and time (to its restoration)."

Funding for the refurbishment of Ottinger Hall came from a U.S. Department of Education grant, a $105,000 donation from the Rotary Club with an additional $80,000 provided by the Salt Lake City Council, Wolf said.

Kim Thomas, YouthCity programs manager, said the building was in terrible condition when the renovation started. The front door had been eaten away so that light showed through. Plaster was peeling from the walls. Much of the restoration work focused on retrofitting the building to make it seismically safe, as well as adding cabinetry, furniture, a kitchenette and a restroom and ramp to meet Americans With Disabilities Act specifications.

Ottinger Hall was built in 1899 as a social hall for members of the Veteran Volunteer Fireman's Association. It's named for the state's first fire chief, George M. Ottinger. Ottinger served as director of the city waterworks, adjutant general of the National Guard and as president of Deseret Academy, which became the University of Utah.

Until 1990, the building housed artifacts from the association. After a replica of Ottinger Hall was built at This Is the Place Heritage Park, the artifacts were moved there, and the building has been vacant ever since.

Since the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, the restoration also had to comply with requirements to remain on the list. Wolf is grateful that housing the program at Ottinger can help bring it back to its original purpose.

"It's a community amenity with a tremendous history," Wolf said. "It was called the old fire station, but what it really was is a gathering place, a social hall. The fact that we can bring it back to the idea that it's a gathering place and a place to be social is wonderful."

When the city first showed interest in using Ottinger Hall as its latest site for expansion, Avenues residents opposed the idea, saying that the neighborhood already faces parking and traffic congestion issues that would only get worse with dozens of children coming to the site each day.

Dave Jonsson, who owns property in the area where Ottinger Hall is located, has been concerned about the increase in traffic from delivery trucks, employees and parents dropping off their children. He said the street is already narrow and dead ends at the entrance to Memory Grove. He gave a list of concerns to city officials, who did their best to find solutions to the problems.

"I hope they prove all my concerns to be wrong. If I'm wrong it will be a good thing. It will make me happy to be wrong," he said, pointing out that some of these issues are still going to be there, despite the city's best efforts to reconcile them.

Russell said YouthCity worked out a plan to help alleviate residents' concerns about transportation issues by agreeing to use a church on A Street between Second Avenue and Third Avenue as a pickup and drop-off site, where children will then be taken by van to Ottinger.

"I think we devised a transportation plan that will allay (residents') fears, and it will work out," Wolf said. "They put us through the paces . . . making sure we would be good neighbors. We're just really happy to be here. We've been dreaming about this building for five years."

Eric Jergensen, the Salt Lake City Council member over the Avenues area, said the city has carefully considered neighbors' concerns and feels housing YouthCity at Ottinger could benefit all involved.

"It's right square in the neighborhood, so the neighborhood can participate in the program if they so choose," he said. "We've worked hard with neighbors who were very specific with their concerns, which are real and valid concerns. We've worked hard to meet every one of those concerns."

The first session for the Ottinger Hall program starts Monday and runs until July 7, and the second session runs from July 10-Aug. 4. Classes change each session with students choosing which classes will stay. Some of the classes offered include digital photography, filmmaking, hip-hop dance, career explorations, Web design, cooking, skateboarding, basketball, swimming and tennis.

Fees for the program are on a sliding scale. The full cost for each four-week session is $200 per child, $100 for children who receive reduced-cost school lunch and $50 for children who receive free school lunch. The Ottinger Hall program is currently full, but questions can be addressed to Dallas Russell at 573-1349 or by visiting the YouthCity Web site at www.youthcity.com.

The main purpose of the program is to help provide youths a safe place to go after school and teach them something new, which Russell is happy to be able to do.

"(I enjoy) teaching the kids new things, giving them opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise and learning from them. I think this is an amazing program. I've worked in a lot of youth programs, and I've been most impressed by this one," she said.

E-mail: [email protected]