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One Murray resident hopes to preserve remnants from the past as the neighborhood in which she grew up prepares for demolition.

For 33 years, Pam Williams lived with her mother in a red-brick house at 5410 Hillside Drive, one of 22 homes near 5300 South and 200 East that will be cleared in February to make way for construction of the new Hillcrest Junior High School.

Williams' sister sold the home after their mother's death in 1999, and Williams relocated to a Murray condominium. Now, the homes are owned by the school district and several are occupied by renters who must vacate early next year.

Before bulldozers arrive, Williams hopes to salvage rose bushes and other landscaping that she and her mother tended together. She also urges the Murray School District to responsibly recycle bricks and other usable materials from the massive demolition site.

"Used brick is fast becoming a popular building material for homeowners looking for that antiquated, time-worn look," Williams wrote in a letter last month to Murray Mayor Dan Snarr and Murray School District Superintendent Steve Hirase.

"I am sure there are many other useful items inside and outside of the homes/properties, the least of which are bushes and trees," Williams continued, charging that the city will likely raise her taxes if the materials end up in landfills rather than being recycled for reuse.

Williams began her quest to retrieve rose bushes in June, an effort that stretched out for several weeks and left her disappointed. The mayor's office referred her to the school district, where she was ultimately told to contact the renters in her old house and obtain their permission to dig up the bushes. She had hoped the district would have more of a plan.

"I asked what would happen to rose bushes at the other houses, and what they were doing with all the things that could be reutilized," Williams said in a recent phone interview. "I got the message that in January or February they'd be bulldozed."

Hirase said he tried to accommodate Williams up to a point.

"We told her she could go over and talk to the current residents, and if they don't have a problem with her taking the rose bushes, we're happy with her doing that," he said.

The situation could easily get out of hand, Hirase said, if several people wanted to remove items from homes and yards throughout the neighborhood.

"We have limited staff, and we don't want to spend our time negotiating with tenants," he said. "We want to stay out of that."

The district has not yet selected contractors to carry out the demolition of the homes and construction of the new school.

"Typically they salvage and recycle what they can," Hirase said, adding that the district is on a tight timeline to raze the homes in February and launch the two-year construction project in March. The $28 million school is slated to open in fall 2015.

Replacement of the current Hillcrest Junior High at 126 E. 5300 South has been planned for several years, Hirase said. Acquisition of the 22 homes began about five years ago, with the final purchase occurring this June.

The district has rented out the vacant houses, while allowing original owners who wish to stay to remain in their homes rent-free until early 2013.

When seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students begin attending the new two-story school in 2015, the old structure — of which the original portion dates back to 1948 — will be torn down and the land will be sold, Hirase said.

Mayor Snarr said he supports the district's approach.

"We've tried to be sensitive to her concerns," Snarr said, noting that Williams has been the only resident to contact him with such requests.

Snarr also touted Murray School District's property taxes as the lowest in Salt Lake County. He believes the district will be pragmatic about recycling in light of time, budget and safety constraints.

"We do not own the property, so the city cannot be proactive about recycling materials," Snarr said. "Unless it's a very unique brick, the time it takes to knock the mortar off the old brick is prohibitive. New brick is made to a much higher standard."

But Williams believes the city and the district can and should do better.

"They should never preach about recycling again when they're just gong to bulldoze the homes and landscaping," Williams said. "To me … it's a big waste."

Twitter: @catmck

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