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South Salt Lake • Without the people in it, a high school is little more than an empty building.

As a proud alumnus of Granite High, class of 1969, I have thought about the old school a great deal the past few years.

As an institution, the school struggled in its latter life. It did away with sports teams, ending a long tradition that produced pro athletes such as Gordon Jolley and Golden Richards, two guys I went to school with, and gave BYU's great LaVell Edwards one of his first head coaching jobs.

When I wandered the crowded halls, the school had almost 2,400 students and was among the state's largest. We had trouble jamming the entire student body into the little bandbox of a gymnasium that became so loud on game night that it shook. I still can sing our school anthem, "The Song of the G."

To this day, I remember beloved teachers who influenced me far more than they might ever realize. And the Class of '69 has remained close. When I attended its 40th anniversary, it was amazing to remember dances, sporting events and the fine musicals our beloved Ralph Rodgers once staged in the classic old auditorium that still stands.

But when we attended the reunion at Granite, we knew the school had been closed. Having one last chance to look at the old gym and auditorium, not walk on the seal at the entrance of the S Building and to examine the Hall of Fame photos, we savored our time and took a moment to snap a group photo in front of the school.

Things changed over the years at Granite.

Cottonwood High opened, which began a slow but steady exodus of students. Once-proud sports teams quit winning and the football team, strapped by lack of players, struggled to win a game. I knew the school was headed for closure when administrators did away with the athletic program entirely and turned it into an academy.

Tony's, the classic lunch counter where we used to gather after school, was long gone, too.

The school drew from a smaller and smaller area. Yet, when I attended my last function when Granite was still a school, it seemed like a happy and vibrant place. There were probably fewer than 600 students left, but they seemed to thrive on individual attention and smaller class sizes.

The L Building on the corner of 3300 South and 500 East that contained an old gym and swimming pool came down, replaced by a new girls gym and swimming pool behind the football field.

When the kids left and the school was mostly abandoned, I drove by it often. My mom still lives in the house I grew up in, and I wondered what would become of the "home of the Farmers." The reality is that, without the vibrant young men and women and dedicated teachers and administrators, Granite was not a school. It was just a campus of old, sad, empty buildings.

Had I lived in South Salt Lake, I would have voted for the $25 million bond to preserve the campus. It was narrowly defeated. Part of it might have been nostalgia, but the reality is that open space and parks in our increasingly crowded valley were much more important than the buildings. We need the old Granite athletic fields, baseball diamond, gyms and tennis courts more than we needed another strip mall, a corner gas station or a huge apartment complex.

The compromise that will turn the 27-acre site into an indoor and outdoor film production facility, and plow $6 million into restoring the existing building and $25 million into future sound stages, office space, restaurants and retail buildings, seems like a wise win-win compromise, especially since much of the open space will remain and the community will be allowed to use it.

It's not a school anymore but, at least for a while longer, I will be able to smile as I drive past the iconic old buildings, remembering writing for The Granitian, playing on the tennis team, the big games, homecoming dances, junior proms and, most of all, the wonderful people who made up the Granite community for generations.

Twitter: @tribtomwharton

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