If an earthquake split the ground beneath Uintah Elementary School, it probably couldn't create a chasm in the neighborhood that would be any wider than the one that already exists.
The emotions are running so high over the fate of the 76-year-old building that Uintah PTA President Anne Story called the Friends of Uintah, a neighborhood organization favoring preservation of the old school, a group of "knee-jerk historical-renovation reactionaries" at the Salt Lake Board of Education Tuesday night.Friends of Uintah didn't like the characterization. Spokeswoman Liz Crowder said she was very disappointed that those who favor razing Uintah and rebuilding it had stooped to emotionalism.
But it was only two weeks ago that the charge of emotionalism was thrown at Friends.
Proponents of rebuilding the school, 1227 S. 1500 East, then refused to participate in a neighborhood poll on Uintah's fate because of what they called the "emotion, conjecture and misleading information" put in the survey by Friends. The new-construction proponents said the Friends' information biased the survey in favor of renovation.
The debate over Uintah's future stretches back to last fall when Uintah parents began pressuring the board about fire and other life-safety issues at the school. The board hired the architectural firm of Gillies Stransky Brems Smith to evaluate the school. It said the old building couldn't be saved without extensive renovation costing $4.7 million; the firm recommended renovation.
But the firm also said tearing down the school would be less expensive, costing about $4 million. The school's community council, which includes the parents, teachers and principal, backed a new school, saying the old building has inadequate space for today's educational programs. Additionally, all but one speaker at a winter neighborhood hearing at the school supported the idea of new school.
Friends, many of them older neighborhood residents, surfaced in late April. At the board's May 7 meeting, the group said the board was only listening to the parents and that the entire neighborhood hadn't been consulted. It said many neighbors wanted to keep the old school's exterior to preserve the neighborhood's architectural integrity.
Friends and the Uintah Community Council left the May meeting with the intentions of distributing a joint neighborhood poll. After negotiations broke down, Friends distributed its own poll.
Tuesday night, Friends spokesman Phil Snow said the majority of poll respondents favor renovation, but only 317 of the 2,500 distributed surveys were returned. Of the 317 respondents, 201 favored renovation and 116 wanted a new school.
Board member Stephen Boyden, who represents the Uintah area, said he will try to work out a compromise between the two groups, but he admitted that likelihood may not be possible.
For its 1991-92 budget, the district has proposed $183,000 for design of a new school. The board will finalize its budget June 18. But following Tuesday night's meeting, board President Alan Mecham said he wouldn't be surprised if the board approves the Uintah money but does not designate its use for new construction or renovation until some accommodation can be reached in the neighborhood.