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School to open in ski lodge

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An Alta ski lodge is adding fresh faces to its tourist and local ski bum clientele: schoolchildren.

Goldminer's Daughter Lodge will lease a wing to Jordan School District to create a one-room schoolhouse.

A public school has been long-sought by Alta parents, forced to drive children down a snowy and sometimes treacherous Little Cottonwood Canyon road to Salt Lake Valley schools.

"We're really excited about it, being able to help the community and providing space for a school," lodge co-owner Jennifer Life-Olson said recently.

The school will start out as a three-year experiment.

Alta resident Roger Bourke in June approached the Jordan Board of Education about bringing either a charter or district-sponsored school to the mountain town.

While some parents home school their children, transportation problems had lured others to enroll in a local private school or move to the valley. The result: a town nearly devoid of schoolchildren.

The school district believes it can fund a school in the community at little or no extra cost.

The school for kindergartners through eighth-graders will set up in the lodge's storage wing. Items including carpet, cabinets, telephone and computer lines will be installed in the approximately 1,000-square-foot room, Superintendent Barry Newbold said.

The wing has its own parking lot, entrance and rest rooms separate from where skiers chow or warm their feet by the fire, Life-Olson said.

That separation would avoid sticky situations with the lodge's liquor license.

Alcohol is served near the classroom. But Life-Olson said the liquor license, which some board members worried about jeopardizing, would be OK because it was established prior to the school.

The matter raised no red flags with district attorneys, Newbold said.

The school will be a regular public school but a unique addition to the state's largest school district.

About 10 local students are expected to enroll this fall; the number is expected to grow to 25 within three years.

The principal of Granite Elementary, the closest school to Alta, will oversee the Alta school.

The district will hire one, highly specialized teacher, certified to teach elementary grades and prepared to meet strict new federal guidelines to teach English, math and science to middle-school students.

In the event of canyon closures, the community will provide food and lodging for the teacher, if needed. Community members also have pledged to volunteer in the school.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm for this sort of thing," Bourke said.

A lease is being negotiated. But Newbold believes it will cost far less than the $60,000 it would take to place a portable classroom somewhere in town. The district will use state funds earmarked for experimental programs.

The teacher will cost about $45,000, but the cost will dwindle as enrollment rises because the school would be getting more per-pupil funds from the state, Newbold said.

The school will be evaluated for continuation after three years.

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com