Children blow bubbles at the Salt Lake County Library granite branch opening ceremony in South Salt Lake on Friday, July 15. Five years after Granite High School’s century-old building was demolished, a new library is emerging to keep the school’s educational spirit alive. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)
Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes
SOUTH SALT LAKE — It had been some time since South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood sang the Granite High School fight song.
The tune made history when the Granite School District decided to close the school in 2009 after 103 years in South Salt Lake. So who could blame her for forgetting words?
After fumbling with the first few lines, the text and a flood of memories slowly came back to her. She thought of times when she sang the song at school events or on the bus ride to games as a member of the school’s football and basketball teams.
“In fact, I got mildly emotional as I recalled what those years in my life meant to me growing up,” Wood said.
Shortly after alumni sang the fight song, the mayor watched as children crowded around her and Salt Lake County leaders on Friday morning to cut a ribbon and open the new Granite Branch Salt Lake County Library on the site of her former alma mater to open.
A crowd of over a hundred people, including several who once attended Granite High School, cheered as the doors swung open and they and their children and grandchildren toured the new facility. It ended a question mark over what would happen to the school after the century-old building was demolished in 2017.
Carrying on a legacy in new ways
Five years ago, there were many possibilities for the future of Granite High School. A group led by Granite High alumni attempted to preserve the building as a historic site in 2017, hoping to revitalize it in the same way that Trolley Square was used commercially. These plans never came to fruition as the building was demolished later that year.
Houses were quickly built on the spot where an old grandstand once stood. The biggest question mark, however, was the northwestern part of the country, where the school itself once stood.
The planners had all sorts of development ideas early on, including a Walmart, which Wood eventually vetoed. She and Salt Lake County leaders agreed that commercial development just didn’t seem like the appropriate way to honor Granite High School’s legacy.
“(We) really paid attention to what the residents were saying, and they said that this is sacred ground. This is a sacred place for our community,” Wood said. “For over 100 years it has served our community and the surrounding communities by being one of the first high schools here in the valley, so we wanted to make sure that whatever has evolved here will continue with that legacy.”
Salt Lake County bought the land for about $4 million, according to Jim Cooper, director of Salt Lake County Library Services. The future of the property quickly morphed into a plan for a new library while maintaining the education theme at the corner of 3300 South and 500 East. Groundbreaking for the 33,000 square meter facility in 2020.
“It was a labor of love,” Cooper said. “I think it enriches the neighborhood (and) adds so much wealth and value to a community. Libraries will continue to do so.”
Inside, visitors will find books, films, music and computers, as well as a large creative area featuring virtual reality technology, a sound and image recording studio and 3D printing. There’s also a kitchen for cooking and nutrition classes, a large meeting room that can accommodate up to 100 people for community events, and smaller study spaces.
The building’s exterior features panels designed as an art exhibit called “Irene’s Irises,” Cooper added. It was founded by Day Christiansen, the grandson of a Granite High graduate who later opened a flower shop in the county.
It was really hard to lose our 100+ year old school, but this is the most perfect way to serve our community and Granite High’s legacy.
– Cherie Wood, Mayor of South Salt Lake
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson pointed out that the grass outside the building is waterproof and therefore more drought tolerant, reducing the need to water it. It leads to the play area outside the library itself where children can run around and have fun. Many children took advantage of this Friday morning.
“I always joke, ‘It’s not like your grandma’s library.’ … This library is built for the future,” said Wilson.
A tribute to Granite High School
While the library is dedicated to educating the next generations in South Salt Lake, bits of the past are also found throughout the building.
The Granite Branch is a museum of sorts as it contains several old school artifacts. Pictures of Granite High athletic teams from a century ago are plastered throughout, and the old school seal mosaic from the original building’s entrance is also on display.
A display case in one corner displays various school artifacts, from a brick from the old building to old pennants, yearbooks, and jerseys. A trophy from Granite High’s 1936 basketball championship sits proudly on top.
Some of the lyrics to the school’s fight song – the one alumni sang Friday morning – are even printed in large letters across the building, as are some references to the old-school Farmers nickname. Cooper said there is a rock outside the library that’s modeled on an ancient rock that once stood outside the school after the county was unable to locate the original boulder.
What is clear is that Granite High School lives on in a new form.
As a graduate herself, it’s a dream come true for Wood.
“Losing our 100+ year old school was really hard, but this is the most perfect way to serve our community and Granite High’s legacy,” she said as kids raced around behind her, looking for books to pick up could. “It is wonderful.”