SLC Schools making plans to rebuild West and Highland High

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The Salt Lake City School District is looking for firms to come up with plans and cost estimates that would potentially guide a bond to rebuild West High and Highland High schools in the coming years.

While a pair of bid requests are the first stage of what would be a long public process, they are the first steps into potentially replacing the pair of historic schools.

District officials say West High has since received additions but no major overhauls. Highland High is also showing its age, and the district is asking for bids from architectural and engineering firms to determine how big a bond would have to be to rebuild the schools.

“It’s been around for a long long time,” Yándary Chatwin, the district’s executive director of communications and community relations said of West High. “As the needs of the school evolve and population grew they just added onto it…They just kind of kept adding onto the school. The older portions are kind of in disrepair.”

West High was last rebuilt in 1922 and celebrates its 100-year anniversary this month. Highland High was built in 1956. It’s not clear whether the schools would be demolished and replaced or retrofitted, though separate bids went out seeking the cost to rebuild both.

The district is looking for a design firm for “consulting, architectural and engineering surfaces for the rebuild of West High School” and Highland High.

The reconstruction would be contingent on the school board approving the work and voters passing a bond. The bids will consist of a feasibility study, site plans, basic architecture and engineering services, budget estimates and timelines.

West High went to bid in April, six weeks before Highland, and is now closed. Highland’s bid date ends July 12.

For West High, phase two would include full design, bid documents, specific building locations and other support needed to complete the project.

West High’s enrollment is currently around 2,700, the district says. It’s looking for a building that could accommodate up to 3,000 students.

At 2166 South 1700 East, Highland High’s enrollment is currently around 1,915 students, the district said in its bid packet. The district is looking for a building to accommodate up to 2,200 students.

The district expects the first phase of work on the Highland project to begin in August and end in February. West High went out to bid earlier and is expected to start June 21 and end in February.

(Story and plans continue below.)

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Plans for the new West High, as shown in a Salt Lake Tribune article, in Feb. 22, 1920.

Building Details

West High

  • Size: 379,000 square feet (plus 66,500-square-foot field house)
  • Student population: 2,700

Highland High

  • Size: 484,862 square feet
  • Student population: 1,915

The district began fighting for a new West High in 1919, according to the first issue of the Salt Lake Telegram’s newspaper that was devoted to Salt Lake City high school students, at the time called the Black and Red. (West High’s current student newspaper is called the Red and Black.) 

On the day the student paper made its debut, the student writers also called the existing school a “menace,” and took issue with the lack of paved sidewalks around the school campus.

“Mr. Taxpayer, listen to this: What does it matter which pocket a man draws from to pay for his bread and butter, so long as it comes from the same source?” the students wrote. “The money from this block will come from you.”

When West High was last rebuilt, the district paid $618,200, the equivalent of about $10 million today.

Highland High was approved for construction in the early 1950s. It was built during a period when Salt Lake City’s schools were bursting at the seams, a contrast to the emptying out that has occurred of late.

The name Highland was chosen in 1956 after a survey of the 1,100 students at Irving Junior High, (which burned multiple times under suspicious circumstances in the 1990s).

The name was a break from the tradition of “compass” names of South, East and West. The school board initially sought to name Highland Southeast High, but faced backlash from Sugar House residents, the Deseret News reported at the time.

While the school’s elementary, middle and high schools are projected to continue losing students, the public high schools aren’t expected to see as steep of declines in the coming decade.

Email Taylor Anderson

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Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.