Rowland Hall school to expand footprint on Sunnyside and sell 9th & 9th campus

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The state’s oldest private school has presented plans to expand its building footprint at its existing campus on Guardsman Way and Sunnyside Avenue, just south of the University of Utah on the city’s east bench.

Also in Rowland Hall St. Marks’ plans: selling its historic campus in the heart of the 9th & 9th neighborhood, at 843 S. Lincoln Street. It is sure to attract developer attention.

Let’s take a look at the plans and peek at the development potential of the historic school site.

The plans

Rowland Hall’s Upper and Middle School Project looks to add a 150,000 sf structure to its existing school at 720 S. Guardsman Way. Called the McCarthey Campus, the Sunnyside location currently houses not only its lower school (PreK-5), but athletic fields and parking lots.

Designs have been presented to the Planning office by EHDD Architecture of San Francisco, which are currently in the Open House phase of the process. Applicants are seeking a height exception in the Institutional zone from 35 to 60 feet.

Images courtesy SLC Planning and EHDD Architecture

The new structure is designed with three stories on its western, downhill side, and the height exception is also needed for the auditorium and gymnasium.

In completing their design review application, Rowland Hall’s representatives wrote “massing and siting strategy has been developed to carefully minimize the impact of the additional height of those elements on the surrounding properties.”

Images courtesy EHDD Architecture

Pedestrian friendly?

One of the design standards for the Institutional zone is that “Development will primarily be oriented to the sidewalk, not an interior courtyard or parking lot.”

The building, however, is set back from the street by nearly a full city block (660 feet). Rowland Hall contends that this requirement is being met, stating “The main entrance faces south towards Sunnyside Ave and is visible from the sidewalk and street.”

Images courtesy EHDD Architecture

The drop-off and pick-up circle, serviced by a block-long driveway from Sunnyside certain to be clogged with idling cars during high traffic times, is not likely to conduce to a healthy pedestrian environment.

Regardless, the application contends “The parking and vehicular circulation plan have (sic) been designed to provide a strong pedestrian connection to the Lower School campus and to Sunnyside to the South, emphasizing pedestrian safety.”

The plan supplies 238 surface-parking stalls, not counting van and bus parking. As a sign of the times, designers figure only 15 bicycle spaces will be needed, the minimum required in the zone.

The 9th & 9th campus

Rowland Hall’s Middle and Upper school (grades 6-12) at 843 S. Lincoln is one of 9th & 9th’s key assets.

Built in 1921 as Roosevelt Junior High, it is eligible but not listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Since it’s not in a local historic district, there is no protection against demolition.

Its architectural beauty, the daily influx of staff and school children (who are also customers for local businesses), and school meeting-rooms, playgrounds and ballfields are significant benefits enjoyed by the nearby community.

But that might not last for long.

Rowland Hall administrator and project manager Kathryn Pickford told us that the “middle school and upper school will move to the Steiner Campus property on Sunnyside Avenue in time for the 26-27 school year.”

Pickford revealed to us that “Our current plans involve eventually selling the Lincoln Street Campus.”

That sets a goal of spring 2026 for construction completion and vacation of the Lincoln Avenue property.

Development potential?

The old Roosevelt Junior High site covers 4.62 acres. Its two-story building contains 24,840 sf, and, according to the county assessor, is valued at $28.5 million. The land is assessed at $5.9 million, but neither structure nor dirt is producing a dollar of property tax revenue for the city.

Rowland Hall current Middle and Upper School, upper right, in the heart of 9th & 9th.

The parcel’s Institutional zoning clearly creates an obstacle to development. Needing a zoning- and likely a masterplan change, the city would enter an entitlement process with developers in a strong position to exact public benefits, like saving the school building and some open space.

We asked two architects about the possibility of the old school anchoring a residential redevelopment project in the future.

Warren Lloyd, principal at Lloyd Architects, commented to us that “This story has played out for several other school and church buildings in Salt Lake including the more fortunate adaptive re-use of the Irving Schoolhouse in Sugarhouse and more recently on several less fortunate cases like the Wells Ward Meetinghouse.”

Reflecting on a future development scenario, Lloyd continued, “Institutional zoned properties like Rowland Hall / St Marks have served a community use, and the neighborhood has benefitted from access to soccer fields and gathering spaces. Higher-density housing is a critical need, but neighborhoods still need the gathering space functions that school and church properties have traditionally provided.”

Whether the historic tax credits offered to the school’s next owners will be “enough incentive to shift the pro-forma dial toward a preservation approach to the site remains to be seen.”

Soren Simonsen, principal at Community Studio, was part of a design team that proposed restoring the old Irving Schoolhouse in the mid-1990s. He reflected, “The main building had been badly damaged by a fire, but was salvageable. It was disappointing to me that most of the historic schoolhouse was ultimately demolished, with just a small portion of the facade preserved. The balance of the building was replaced by a very poor contributor to the urban fabric of Sugar House.”

One might also worry what’s to come of the urban fabric around both Rowland Hall’s new proposal on Sunnyside as well as the historic school at 800 S. and Lincoln Street.

Email Luke Garrott

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.