But after two failed public votes on tapping tax money to restore the 102-year-old building, it sits empty and shuttered, its doors bolted and its three-acre lot encircled by a chain-link fence.
Though some see it as an eyesore at odds with its surroundings, the school at 12441 S. 900 East remains one of the most prominent features of Draper's historic downtown. It was named for John Park, one of the state's leading pioneer-era teachers and the first president of the University of Utah.
The demolition request has prompted new action by historic preservationists on the storied structure's behalf, including the launch of an informational website, several outreaches to rally public support and a new architectural study re-examining the costs of renovation.
"The Park School is a resource with a lot of value you don't just send to the landfill," said Katie Shell, a member of Draper's Historic Preservation Commission. "Basically, we're just asking for a few acres in the historic core of Draper where we can keep something that can't be re-created after it goes away."
Talk has persisted of the possibility of a private developer or nonprofit group stepping in to refurbish the building but that has yet to bear fruit. Meanwhile, city leaders worry the Park School is increasingly unsafe and a nuisance exposing Draper to potential lawsuits.
"It is, without a doubt, a huge liability for us," Mayor Troy Walker said.
But Walker said that after informal conversations with several City Council members during last weekend's Draper Days, he believes city leaders would be receptive to a well-formulated plan for renovating and reusing the building.
In fact, Walker said, they may be persuaded to delay demolition for up to a year, while supporters nail down a plan with a specific timeline to restore and maintain the Park School with funding that doesn't draw from city coffers.
"Nobody on the council hates the building," he said. "If we can find a free-market way to do this, we're all for it."
The latest architectural study, by Allen Roberts with the Salt Lake City-based firm CRSA, found the building in good condition, "similar to or better than 20 other historic school CRSA has renovated," the study said.
CRSA estimated renovation costs at about $5.5 million, depending on which portions of the 33,360-square-foot building are targeted for improvements.
Several future uses are contemplated, including a community gathering place or an arts and cultural center, Walker said. And as officials explore those options, the city will proceed with a $60,000 asbestos removal at the school "in the very near future," the mayor said.
To Walker's predecessor, three-term mayor and former council member Darrell Smith, the Park School should be a vital element in the city's wider approach to growth and development downtown.
"The spirit of Draper's past will be the strength of its future," Smith said, invoking the city's motto. "I still feel the school has some life in it, to preserve the history of Draper."
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