Skip to main content

Midvale Journal

First four-story high school in Utah applauded by hundreds of community members

Aug 25, 2021 11:47AM ● By Julie Slama

Student Body President Jason Mun cuts the official ribbon opening the newly built Hillcrest High School, the first four-story high school in Utah. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Former Hillcrest High teacher Don Marr remembers his and former art department colleagues’ students taking top awards in statewide competitions, and receiving college scholarships for their pottery, painting, drawing, crafts, 3D art and other mediums.

The favorite memory of the teacher, who climbed the stairs above the auto shop to his room from 1969 to 1981, was an assembly where Hillcrest High received an American flag that flew above the White House.

“It was in 1971 and Sen. Frank Moss presented it to us,” Marr said. “He said that we had the best auditorium in the entire country. He said that the gym and auditorium were world class and he had noticed it.”

Marr said that flag flew above the school for years until U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch replaced it with another flag that flew over the White House.

Marr was on hand to witness the first time the American flag and Hillcrest High flag were raised above the new school during its Aug. 13 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Hundreds of students, alumni, current and former teachers, city and school leaders and community members came to witness not just one, but three, snips of the ribbon signifying the opening of the new school that has been under construction since its May 31, 2018, groundbreaking.

The first ribbon cut was by Student Body President Jason Mun, followed by Principal Greg Leavitt and Canyons Board of Education member Mont Millerburg, alongside school and school district officials. The third cut was by Midvale Mayor Robert Hale, Utah State Sen. Kathleen Riebe and area elected officials.

More than three years ago, the new building’s groundbreaking was on the Huskies’ soccer field, now buried under the foundation and parking lot, but only yards away from where Millerburg stood welcoming the crowd.

“It was hot, and I was decked out in a suit and tie, so I think this shirt is just fine,” he said, but joked that if he knew the building with air conditioning was so close to the ceremony, he would have dressed up more, with reference to the former non-air-conditioned school.

Millerburg gave praise to lead architect Greta Anderson at FFKR Architects, who, like himself, graduated from Hillcrest.

“This school has been a labor of love for Greta,” he said.

Canyons Chief Financial Officer and Business Administrator Leon Wilcox added he hoped her classmates voted her “most likely to succeed.”

The Westland Construction crew were called “lifesavers” by Wilcox for their dedication to “living at the school” for months as they built the new school on 38 acres. As they were acknowledged, the principal leapt up from his chair to give them each a roll of Lifesavers candy.

Wilcox thanked the community for supporting the 2017 $283-million bond that allowed rebuilding Hillcrest as well as Brighton High and renovating Alta High, in addition to 17 other schools having major improvements or rebuilds.

Millerburg pointed out that every school that has been promised by Canyons Board of Education to build, renovate, remodel or improve has been done, is in progress or is planned. In Midvale alone, Hillcrest, Midvale Middle, and Midvalley and Midvale elementaries have been rebuilt.

“These buildings are an investment in Midvale’s children and Midvale’s future,” he said.

Canyons Supt. Rick Robins pointed out Hillcrest is more than a structure that is wired for today’s technology.

“There’s just something about our time in high school that sticks with us: the friendships we build, the struggles we overcome, and the pressures we endure,” he said about the first school he visited when he became superintendent just over one year ago. “This school is special; it’s more than a building. Year-round, day and night, for generations to come, it will serve as a training ground for tomorrow’s scientists, business leaders, aspiring athletes and artists.”

Former teacher Marr was hired by the school’s first principal, Joel P. Jensen, worked under its second, DelMar Schick and was teased by its third, Ted Lovato, who was a former art teacher at Bingham High.

“Lovato helped bring up my stature after teasing I’d burn students’ hair in the kiln; it was an ongoing joke,” he said as he was on a tour of the new building, hoping to capture a glimpse of his former kiln.

As groups toured the school, they saw the new college-seating presentation room which will function as an academic lecture hall, a student kitchen designed for ProStart culinary students, a media center and weight room that overlook the Wasatch Mountains, rooms dedicated to student life such as student officers and international baccalaureate; a music department that features practice rooms and a library, shop rooms that are set to have state-of-the-art technology and a black box theatre designed for more intimate shows.

Parts of the school pay homage to the former building. The former basketball court from Art Hughes gymnasium has been placed on the walls outside of the new main gymnasium that features an indoor track around its top and near a dedicated wrestling room. The sports complex also includes a field house, which allows for flexibility of sports teams’ practices and physical education classes and has a banquet and meeting room that overlooks the north end of the football field and track.

Even though the first day of school was only three days away, parts of the school were not quite done. 

Students had yet to be issued lockers – and there weren’t enough of those for each of the 2,300 students; school bells and air conditioning weren’t functioning; and water just had begun working. Many rooms stood unfurnished even though custodians, class officers, teachers and staff had been furiously moving items in place.

Leavitt thanked the students, faculty and staff for their patience during the construction and pointedly, thanked the custodial staff for “working their tails off.”

The commons and kitchen are to be completed by the end of September, so students will be supplied with bag lunches at the start of the school year. The auditorium was expected to be completed by late October and the student parking lot, in December. The ball fields and tennis courts should be ready next fall.

As COVID-19 has impacted every facet of life, it also has had its mark with Hillcrest, Robins said.

“The pace at which construction costs are soaring shows no signs of slowing,” he said. “With those costs, other inflationary pressures and Utah’s labor shortage, it’s fortunate we all started all of our school improvement projects when we did.”

Hillcrest cost about $120 million, Wilcox said, a 34% increase from early estimates.Even the best-laid plans didn’t always go as expected, Wilcox said.

“We’ve even had a bit of trouble tearing down the old building, so maybe it’s more seismically safe than we thought,” he said, adding that the new building was constructed in phases to allow students to continue learning in their former school through the end of this past school year. 

Then, Wilcox, added to cheers and applause, “This building we’ll almost guarantee will keep the bats out,” making reference to recent years when a colony of bats nested in the auditorium and made frequent visits during classes. 

In fact, it was during a Halloween music concert when bats flew around the auditorium during a spooky instrumental song and a visitor wondered how Hillcrest was able to time that, amazed at its theatrical enhancement during the concert.

Two of the performing arts groups were highlighted during the ribbon-cutting. Hillcrest’s marching band, making its return debut performance, played the national anthem, fight song and others and the award-winning vocal ensemble sang the school song, “Through All the Seasons of the Year.” 

Marr had come to campus earlier to see his old room one last time, but it was too late. Much of the 59-year-old building was in rubble, with only the auditorium tower expected to be in place until mid-day on the first day of school, Aug. 16.

“This [new] school is absolutely stupendous. The architecture is so much wiser than others as it incorporates the mountain views from both sides of the school, the safety of being able to see down the hallways and the compactness of having everything you need right here,” Marr said.

Leavitt, who was born the same year as the former school, reminded the community that the first four-story high school in the state was built for the view of the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges.

“We built this school on the concept of a view,” he said, encouraging people to look not just at the view in front of them, but one of the future. “Hillcrest will be here a long time. You’ll see state championships, you’ll see academic accomplishments, you’ll see strong students come out to run their community. That’s the view Hillcrest will have. It’s more than just a view. It’s what people will be. Hillcrest High School will help with its great teachers and families that come here to Hillcrest will produce amazing results — not only in this community, but worldwide.”