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Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Media assistant Marsha Clark, left, and specialist Rebecca Simmons organize library books at Granger Elementary.

WEST VALLEY CITY — Granger Elementary students are getting quite the gift this holiday season: a brand new school.

Teachers and school leaders have been working part of the holiday break to move into the school at 3700 South and 1950 West in time for classes to start Wednesday. It's the second move in 18 months for the school, which has been holding classes at the old Woodrow Wilson Elementary building in South Salt Lake.

"How can you not be just thrilled to be in this building? It kind of takes away the pain of packing," sixth-grade teacher Michelle Bricker said just outside her new classroom, near rows of storage space that teachers just can't get enough of.

"I would have rather visited my grandchildren on this break, but it's worth it," third-grade teacher Maxine Fothergill said. "It's so special to be a teacher in a new school."

The original Granger Elementary opened in 1955 before West Valley became a city. But as the area grew, the school ended up on the edge of Valley Fair Mall, and now West Valley's city center redevelopment project.

When discount warehouse Costco entered the project's sights, Granite School District, the developer and the city worked out a deal, said city director of redevelopment Brent Garlick.

In the end, the district sold the school's parcel, the old school was razed, Costco was built, and the city gave the school district a former park near 3700 South and 1950 West on which to rebuild and pledged $2.5 million to help with the construction.

"It's probably a pretty good example of getting things done if everybody wants to cooperate ... (and where) everyone walks away thinking, 'Wow, this was a great deal,"' Garlick said. "But it's very unusual, that project."

In the end, the school district paid for just under half of the $14.2 million school, said Rob Averett, district director of elementary school services.

Yet there were bumps in the road. A year and a half ago, teachers said they received short notice to move to the old Wilson Elementary, which had relocated to the Granite Education Center at 2500 S. State. Some classrooms were cramped; resource teacher Scott Hampton taught in a trailer half the size of a portable classroom.

Now, Hampton's classroom is nearly three times as big.

Principal Wayne Williamson believes his students will be blown away "just by the sheer size of the building."

The two-story, 94,000-square-foot building is about twice as big as the old school, Averett said. It includes plenty of natural light, a separate gym and cafeteria, two computer labs, overhead projectors and voice enhancement for teachers. It's also at the center, rather than the edge, of its students' neighborhoods.

"This is such an improvement. It's one of the biggest elementary schools in Utah, and it's not because the population is so big; it's because we're providing rooms for every special program," Averett said. "This is Granite's very best work for disadvantaged children."

The school of about 700 children whose speech derives from 23 different languages, dubs itself the "United Nations of West Valley." The year-round school receives extra money from the U.S. Department of Education for schools in low-income areas, and was named a national distinguished Title I school in 2005-06, and a Blue Ribbon School for outstanding achievement under No Child Left Behind in 2006.

The new Granger Elementary lacked a few finishing touches Thursday, such as artwork and playground equipment. But classrooms — teachers received two paid days and school let out early a few times to give them time to pack, Williamson said — are expected to be ready by Wednesday.

Students are anticipating the move; some with first-day-of-school jitters, a few teachers said. But teachers reassured them before the break that they'll still all be together, but in a nice, new space.

"I think their mouths will be wide open," when students see their new digs, said first-grade teacher Mary Anne Fillmore. "I think the children are going to be absolutely thrilled. And I think it will be a life lesson: getting something new, you have to take wonderful care of it."

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