With a sense of loss and frustration, the Granite Board of Education voted as expected Tuesday night to close the venerable Webster Elementary School at the end of the school year and realign the remaining school boundaries in Magna.
Though labeled sound and serviceable, the three-story sandstone landmark fell victim to simple economics: It would have cost close to $1 million to modernize it and bring it into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.What galled some in the community as well as members of the school board was the conviction that they had been backed into a corner by an inflexible and unreasonable federal mandate.
"I will vote for it, but I have a real problem with closing this school. My problem is with the overreaching of the federal government," school board member Lynn Davidson said to the applause of a roomful of Magna residents.
According to Davidson, there are no handicapped students enrolled at Webster, and no other handicapped individual had been disadvantaged by its structural limitations. It was, nevertheless, subject to the ADA, requiring compliance or closure.
Faced with the choice, a committee of residents reluctantly recommended the school be closed, and Granite District administrators reluctantly concurred. Citing the cost to do otherwise, Assistant Superintendent Briant Farnsworth said, "It doesn't seem economically reasonable."
Located at 9228 W. 2700 South, the 87-year-old school would have needed an elevator, ramps, better interior access, a seismic upgrade and other improvements. Still, by most accounts, it has been a well-maintained and fundamentally func-tional school building, despite its age.
"It has served us well," Davidson said. Describing it as "beautiful," Davidson also lamented the fact that Magna could lose an architectural treasure. "In other parts of the country, age is valued," he said.
The board made no decision about what to do with the structure once it's closed but indicated several options would be explored. The site may be needed some day for a new school building if Magna's population continues to grow, officials said.
While the district owns the land beneath the building, the property around it belongs to Kennecott Corp. Company spokesman Louis Cononelos told the board Kennecott would be willing to donate the land to the district if and when a new school is built.
Meanwhile, the board was faced with the question of what to do with the displaced students, which board president Patricia Sand-strom said was a more difficult decision than closing the school.
The community committee had recommended sending most of Webster's students to Magna Elementary, 8500 W. 3100 South. That would have forced 144 Magna Elementary students to move over to Pleasant Green Elementary, 8201 W. 2700 South.
Committee members felt the disruption was necessary to prevent students from having to cross busy roads, particularly 8400 West. But district officials said the child-safety issues could be addressed and opted instead for a plan placing most of Webster's students in Pleasant Green.
After spending several hours this week watching traffic in Magna, board member Judy Lar-son said 8400 West "could very easily be controlled and worked with."
Board member Robert Arnold agreed, saying, "There is far less traffic on 8400 West than on many roads we deal with on a regular basis."
Jerry Pulsipher, associate director of elementary school services, said Pleasant Green, a year-round school with a large common area and media center, afforded the most flexibility.
Under the new configuration, an island of Pleasant Green students living south of 3500 South will be transferred to Copper Hills Elementary, 7635 W. 3715 South. The influx of students will require four "relocatable" classrooms at Copper Hills, Pulsipher said.
Superintendent Loren G. Burton assured the Magna residents that the education programs their children had become accustomed to would follow them to their new schools and that year-round schedules would be tailored to family needs.
He also said enrollment trends would be closely monitored to ensure that the remaining four schools in Magna are not over-loaded.
Given all of those assurances, the board voted unanimously to accept the committee's second boundary recommendation, praising the citizens for uncommon cooperation and hard work.
"I've watched a lot of boundary changes over the past 10 years, and I can say that Magna has been the most polite and the most informed of any I've seen," Davidson said.