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Mountain High's new building is a better alternative

Square scars dot the landscape where the old Mountain High once stood, formerly 11 portable classrooms and a parking lot.

The Davis School District alternative school has left behind 20 years of temporary buildings for a new permanent structure. The school's premier building cost more than $2 million."This is a pretty awesome place," said senior Eliza Spears, member of the school's first-ever student council. "Small, but awesome."

Spears comments came at the school's open house Tuesday, where she and a handful of other students greeted visitors and guided tours.

The 27,000-square-foot building contains a media center, a technology center, classrooms and office suites. A commons area, which also serves as a volleyball and basketball court and a lunchroom, is the structure's gem - providing students with a place other than curbside to hang out.

"This facility has really provided a place for kids to be," said principal Larry Shumway, who has noticed heightened student and faculty morale, school image and pride with the new building. "I didn't realize how demoralizing (portables were) until we moved into here."

Six of the former portables are attached to the school via corridors and are indiscernible from main building classrooms. Hopefully, the corridor's strength will prevent portables from rattling "like a locomotive missing a wheel" whenever the winds kick up, said Shumway, director of alternative education for Davis School District. One portable stands alone.

A premier technology center gives kids a place to experiment with radio broadcasts and video productions.

"It is important (students) have a facility that is conducive to their learning styles and I hope that is what we've accomplished," assistant superintendent Lynn Trenbeath said.

Students also participate in service learning by volunteering at senior citizens centers and assisting with children at Head Start. Family and consumer sciences students are making quilts to give to the community.

"This school has given me the tools to do so much," said Spears, 17. "We're doing a lot of things that involve (students).

"My teachers are by far my best friends."

The new school is a far cry from the school's humble beginnings. The school opened in 1976 as Alternative High School in the basement of a little red brick house nearby, with 15 students and three teachers.

"For a program to survive as long as it did and as well as it did with minimal facilities is a real tribute to the staff," said Vik Arnold, recalling teaching math in the home's breakfast nook. Arnold now serves as associate director of the Davis Education Foundation.

Once called a temporary solution to a temporary problem, the school has grown to 350 students and 35 staff members and is expected to serve about 600 students throughout the school year. More than 100 students graduated from the school last June, while others graduated from schools they previously attended.

Mountain High is not Davis School District's only alternative education site. Davis Junior High is an alternative school and there's also an alternative program at Hill Field Elementary.

"I'm sure a lot in the community are asking, `Why do we spend money on these knuckleheads?' " said principal Larry Shumway. But he says alternative education students should not be stereotyped as "bad kids."

"I don't think alternative education is going to be always oriented toward kids who have struggled," he said. "Some need an alternative setting to be the best they can be."