This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Granite School District has submitted a request for proposal (RFP) to tear down the old long-abandoned Granite High School in South Salt Lake.
This comes amid a tangle of negotiations between developer Garbett Homes and partner Wasatch Developments, who are under contract to build houses on the southern half of the property and a commercial corner on the northern half, and the Utah Arts Alliance, which wants to save three historic buildings on the site for arts and education community uses, as well as open space.
Ben Horsley, Granite School District's communications director, is careful to clarify that an RFP is just a review of how much demolition would cost, not a decision to go through with it. He says between the two- to three-week response time and Granite School District Board of Education consent vote, the buildings wouldn't go down until February at the earliest.
This is not the district's first RFP. Past probes into ripping down the buildings have fizzled out as the school district saw several different deals emerge and fall through, but the recent spike in crime at the abandoned high school has pushed the district to act, Horsley said.
The school district's police department has received more than 240 calls over suspicious activity at the school. Horsley says people break in, set off the alarms, stay overnight, climb on the roof, deal drugs and sometimes even get hurt and sue the district for it.
"We're just keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn't happen again, and that's not a sufficient strategy when trying to take care of taxpayer resources," Horsley said. "If [the current] deal does fail or not go through for some reason, we want to have our ducks lined up and be prepared to reduce the liability of the taxpayers. It's really hard to injure yourself on a big sandlot."
Utah Arts Alliance's Executive Director Derek Dyer thought that's what the school district would say.
According to Dyer, the contract between Granite School District and Garbett Homes requires that the school buildings be torn down within six months of when they close phase one of the project.
"So when Granite School District says they're just kind of looking into it just in case, that's not completely honest," said Dyer.
What Dyer has lobbied for over a half-dozen meetings with Garbett Homes is to add the Utah Arts Alliance to the contract, change the one sentence requiring the buildings go down, and have the Utah Arts Alliance buy the portion of the property they want to preserve. The alliance pitched an official proposal to Garbett on Dec. 1.
"We're looking at it as, 'Hey, we could really have a good symbiotic relationship here.' And then we're offering them 'Hey, you guys don't look like the villains because you're helping to protect these heritage sites and you're helping to preserve more open space.' So that's what we're bringing to the table," Dyer said.
But the price tag on that land rings in around $2.6 million, and Garbett Homes' Jacob Ballstaedt says the Utah Arts Alliance hasn't even come close to offering that kind of money.
"They've told me they've raised $3,500; and the parcel they're interested in buying, I mean it's several million dollars. So we kind of struggle with how to face the realities of buying property when you don't have the means to do so," Ballstaedt said.
Horsley agrees that the Utah Arts Alliance's funds may not match its lofty aspirations.
"I appreciate what they're trying to do, but this property has been for sale for seven years. I would just dare to venture that if they had the resources to put this project together, we would have heard from them a long time ago," said Horsley. "Thirty-five hundred dollars isn't sufficient to put money down on a home, let alone your portion of several million dollars worth of property."
Dyer disputes that the Utah Arts Alliance's financial situation is as weak as the district and developer portray, and also disagree that it is late to the game. The group has secured donors and partners including big names like Pixar creator and Granite High alumnus Ed Catmull to back the project, but it can't get going on fundraising without being let in, he said.
"[Donors] can't give the money until we legally can accept it, really. If it's under contract with Garbett, we can't take the money," Dyer said.
And Dyer maintains that he took Garbett Homes and Wasatch Developments at their word when they said in March they were walking away from the deal. When he called to inquire about the property, he says district officials told him not to waste his time a new deal was back on.
Dyer says he's never gotten a "no" or even a bad vibe from Garbett Homes, but Ballstaedt says the prospects aren't looking good.
"To be honest, their proposal doesn't work very well. It doesn't work well for us, doesn't work well for our partners, and they don't have any money to do it. I'd like to try to work with these guys, but there's just so many obstacles, I have no idea how to do it."