When Wastach Junior High burned almost to the ground a couple of weeks ago and the scenes were later depicted on television, I was in awe. Sure I have seen a lot of fires in my life and even saw a few school fires in my years working with Granite School District, but never anything like this.
Fires in school buildings are nothing new. In fact in Carbon County alone I can think of three fires that completely took out school buildings in the last 100 years. The latest of those was in the mid-1970's at a building that was under construction where the school district office now stands.
As I cover news I recognize there is nothing that brings out more emotion than the destruction of a school, because schools are so full of memories for so many people. A house fire is a great loss and emotional blow to a family; a school fire can destroy a community's centerpiece.
Granite District now has a big decision, or should I say several of them, to make. First they have to place all the kids from Wasatch in an educational setting for at least the next year. They will probably do that in the surrounding junior high schools in their district. Second they have to decide what to do with what is left of Wasatch Junior high and the 30 acres the charred remains sit on.
There will be political pressure to rebuild, despite the fact that Churchill, Evergreen and Olympus Junior Highs could absorb all the kids with a little redistricting. Granite's east side is in a declining student population mode, just as it has been for about 30 years. The property that the remains for Wasatch sits on is some of the most expensive in the Salt Lake Valley. To me, logically, it is a no brainer. Redistrict the junior high boundaries, tear down the building, sell the property and run with the money to a place on the west side of the district where student populations are growing and it could be used more effectively.
However, after having worked at Granite for so many years and having worked as a consultant with other school districts throughout the country, I doubt this will happen. Political pressure will mount to rebuild the building, and partly because of where it is located and the people involved, a new structure will probably rise out of the ashes.
Why is this important to those who live in Carbon County and why should you care?
Because despite the fact that the school is 120 miles from here, every penny spent on new school construction anywhere takes money from all of us in one form or another. We need to be concerned about what happens in other parts of the state when it comes to taxpayer dollars being spent for things that are not necessary.
Some who live in Granite's boundaries would say we have no right to voice opinions about what is going on there, but I disagree with that. They may want to see their school resurrected and kept open despite the cost or the logic, but they could care less when for various reasons perfectly good school buildings in rural Utah have to close.
We also have to ask ourselves what we would do if we were in the same situation. Based on the fact that all the schools populations in Carbon District are declining, if a school burned down in our district, and there was a convenient place to send the displaced students with relatively little cost, would we do the logical thing? Or would we spend millions of dollars, rebuilding a building that isn't actually needed?
Let's hope we never find that out. It seems that once a fire gets hot enough even steel and concrete can burn. But the heat and smoke of any fire should never cloud a logical decision to the point that it becomes a political one.