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After a decadelong negotiation that included an act of Congress, Rowland Hall has bought an empty 13.2-acre lot from Mount Olivet Cemetery to become the east-bench home of a future junior high and high school.
The deal, unveiled on the private school's website, was made possible by a $6.5 million donation from the Steiner family, according to Philip McCarthey, school board vice chairman.
"We are very grateful and thank them," McCarthey says in the web video that defines the sale as an "extraordinary moment for our school community."
The weedy lot at 1443 E. Sunnyside Ave. abuts Rowland Hall's elementary, which fronts 720 S. Guardsman Way. A capital campaign is under way to raise money for the new schools that would complete Rowland Hall's east Salt Lake City campus.
In recognition of the Steiner gift, McCarthey notes the junior high and high school segment will be known as the Steiner campus, named in honor of industrialist Richard R. Steiner, who died in 2005.
The purchase was made possible last May when Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, won approval for his bill removing the federal government's reversionary clause. It followed a series of twists that included a private bidding war with the University of Utah, blowback from neighbors, a zoning change and multiple city extensions.
Critics fear the schools will spoil views, spike traffic and wipe away prime open space. City Council members Luke Garrott and Soren Simonsen voted against the transaction for that reason. Even so, the city inked a development agreement that requires a public easement, public use of the school's soccer field, an open view corridor and new multiuse trails. A school spokeswoman notes two-thirds of the property also will remain open space.
For years, Mount Olivet has said it needs the money to maintain its neighboring cemetery. Olivet's remaining 47 acres still have "130 years" of life, says William Adams, chairman of the Mount Olivet Cemetery Association.
Steiner's other charitable contributions include funding the nearby Steiner Aquatic Center.