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Midvale Journal

Groundbreaking kicks off Hillcrest High’s reconstruction process

Jul 23, 2018 02:55PM ● By Julie Slama

Canyons Board of Education member Mont Millerberg, who graduated from Hillcrest High School 50 years ago, invited the Class of 1968 to help the ceremonial dig at Hillcrest’s groundbreaking ceremony for a new high school. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com 

Hillcrest High School alumna Greta Anderson took drafting in high school, the only girl in her class. The old drafting tables filled the shop in the upstairs hall near the art classes. 

“I appreciated order and form and the marriage of those,” she said, adding that she didn’t know that class would lead her to her career in architecture, one that now is having her redesign her alma mater. 

Anderson was on hand as shovels were turned in the Husky soccer field for the groundbreaking ceremony to rebuild the current 56-year-old school. The new school, with a price tag of $98 million, will be built in phases over a four-year period on the current campus, with students to return to Hillcrest this fall using nearby area tennis courts, baseball fields and soccer fields, after theirs have been torn up this summer

The area also will make room for a new gymnasium and field house, which will give space for physical education classes, a practice facility for sports teams, as well as indoor seating to watch the Huskies play on the football field. The school’s new design includes a performing arts complex for the program that brought home three state trophies this past year and updated classrooms for neighborhood, advanced placement and international baccalaureate classes. 

“We want to bring more high-tech learning to our schools,” Canyons School District Business Administrator Leon Wilcox said, adding that one of the construction goals is to have little disruption to students. “Currently, there is no infrastructure at Hillcrest to support 21st-century learning.” 

Also included in the design plan is a commons area, which Anderson said attending the school gave her a unique insight. 

“We used to leave campus every day for lunch because there wasn’t a space for everyone; the cafeteria is too small and uninviting,” said Anderson after the May 31 groundbreaking ceremony for the new school. “There is no place that unifies the school, where everyone comes together.” 

Even today, students are found leaving campus and eating in the hallways. 

Safety also was one of her concerns. 

"Safety is something we go over and over in our design," said the 1989 graduate who works with FFKR Architects. “Plus, it always seemed dark. We wanted to bring in natural light.” 

There was controversy with the plan of “daylighting,” not addressed at the groundbreaking ceremony. 

Canyons officials said that the new school will emphasize open spaces illuminated by natural light and collaborative spaces for students to gather. The floor plan allows an open environment where students and employees can see and be seen. This can reduce instances of bullying and provide students with a broader sense of place and purpose, Canyons School District spokesperson Jeff Haney said. 

The proposed “daylighting” design is in the form of large windows, which Canyons School District has used with the recent rebuilding of Mt. Jordan Middle School. The premise holds that natural light is not only good for defraying electricity and infrastructure costs, but it also boosts student learning. 

However, it raised concerns this past spring when parents as well as English language arts teacher Katie Bullock questioned its safety, indicating that it makes students and faculty vulnerable to school shooting incidents. 

Hillcrest High Principal Greg Leavitt said that there were discussions about safety as well as advantages of having windows. 

“We discussed how windows are beneficial to the classrooms and by not having windows, studies show it doesn’t protect against people who do evil, illegal activity,” he said. 

Haney said there have been compromises made. In an earlier design, the windows were “essentially glass partitions from the ceiling to the floor,” he said. Now, with input of the community, the windows were adjusted to its current size of about “midway, so more like windows.” 

Haney said that the design of the new school reflects months of hard work and countless reviews by architects, administrators, teachers, parents and students.

“During the design phase, we solicited considerable input from many stakeholders,” he said. “Throughout the process, we’ve focused on ensuring the school will be safe, welcoming and, above all, conducive to learning. For example, we heard from people who were concerned about floor-to-ceiling windows in every classroom. While we recognized their concerns, we also heard from others who welcomed the transparency in classroom areas so teachers can clearly see who is approaching their classrooms. Such openness can only serve to protect students from away-from-sight bullying, as well.”

The compromise to reduce the size of classroom windows is one example of the collaborative effort with Hillcrest’s rebuild and Canyons dedication to ensuring school safety while providing modern learning environments, Haney said. 

“If you look at the history of when schools were built, even in the 1970s during the energy crisis and schools used a lot of brick, there were still instances of school violence,” he said, pointing out a Wikipedia entry indicated there were more than 250 school deaths in the U.S. from 1970 through 1999. “We are looking at other ways to ensure school safety such as security vestibules, school cameras that were installed in the ‘90s and 2000s and addressing the school culture. We want our schools to have a safe, welcoming culture.”

However, Hillcrest students aren’t immune to school violence. In February 2017, Hillcrest went on lockdown when an anonymous caller phoned the police to say that a gunman was barricaded inside the school and was firing shots. The incident turned out to be a hoax. However, students were on alert when there was actual gunfire at nearby Union Middle School the previous fall. 

Leavitt had invited the community to look at the school’s website about the rebuild following a recent parent and student public forum in April. Student safety, as far as emergency drills and in parking lots and walking to school, were included. 

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Leavitt said that many traditions for the 2,250 students will be kept even with a new school. 

“It’s a new start and we’ll mix our old traditions with the new ones we start here,” he said. “This is a time to cultivate as we break ground. We’re not only cultivating dirt, brick and stone, but our hearts, minds and philosophies. We are cultivating these students’ education in the future.” 

Superintendent Jim Briscoe said that the new school was made possible with 58 percent approval of voters on the 2017 $283-million bond, which also will include new campuses at Union Middle, Midvalley Elementary and three other elementary schools and nearby Brighton High, which has a groundbreaking ceremony set for Aug. 9. Alta High, in Sandy, which had its groundbreaking ceremony in June, will be remodeled extensively. 

The first phase at Hillcrest, which will include the field house and main and auxiliary gymnasiums, will be completed in summer 2019. The second phase, which will move the auditorium, shops administration and some classrooms as well as the commons to the eastern wing of the school, will take place during 2019, with the final two phases, consisting of mostly sports fields on the west side of the 38-acre campus, to be completed by fall 2021.

“It shows that our parents and community support education and it’s our No. 1 focus,” Briscoe said. “Hillcrest has a vibrant and amazing history and tradition and it’s the Husky pride that will carry into the new building.” 

The new Hillcrest is something Midvale Mayor Robert Hale said is spurring plans for commercial developers on 900 East and in Fort Union. 

“Along with the other new Midvale schools, and soon Union Middle School, it brings remarkable upgrades in Midvale City and that is giving our commercial businesses an upstart,” he said. “And now our students are having the newest, best schools for learning.” 

The groundbreaking ceremony also included several graduates from the Class of 1968, who along with their classmate and Board of Education member Mont Millerberg took part in the ceremonial turn of dirt with golden shovels. The class of 2018 and other student leaders joined in, along with the architecture firm, Westland Construction crew and Canyons officials. 

“Fifty years ago, this was an absolutely great, new modern school,” Millerberg said about his school that was built at a cost of $5 million in 1962. “I have zero regrets today that we are tearing it down. It’s been used and abused and it’s been a great school building, but now we need one that will provide our future Huskies greater access to technology and learning. I’ll have my fond members and remember my high school teachers here, but it’s time for a new beginning for Hillcrest.”