Updated on Nov. 2, 2016 at 2:21 PM: Westminster College entered an agreement with Elizabeth Academy, a private non-profit Montessori school, for the sale of the Garfield Elementary School property, according to a news release from the college. Elizabeth Academy plans to develop the space into a Montessori-inspired laboratory (lab) school.
Welcome to Garfield Elementary School, home of broken glass, dead flies and a door that reads “HELL/ENTER HERE.”
The facility, located on 1500 East, was purchased in 2011 by Westminster College from the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City for $2.2 million, according to Curtis Ryan, vice president of finance and administration.
“We would like to expand the college there,” Ryan said. “There’s no other property close to Westminster College that has that much space.”
The difficulty with having such a large space—roughly 85,000 square feet—is the large renovation cost, according to David Dynak, professor/Sorenson chair in arts education, who has been planning possible facility uses.
“Garfield is in very ill repair,” Dynak said. “It’s horrible. It just needs major, major renovation.”
Dynak estimates that a renovation for the Garfield Elementary School would cost about $20 million.
Dynak was hired at Westminster as the Beverly Taylor Sorenson endowed professor of arts education, as well as the director of the Garfield project.
Since then, he has brought several ideas to Westminster’s Board of Trustees but has not been able to move forward with them.
“At the very beginning, we went through a series of meetings with all of the arts faculty because, at first, it was going to be the Westminster Center for the Arts,” Dynak said.
Then, the first roadblock was placed.
“That was just at the same time that our old president was hired, Dr. Brian Levin-Stankevich,” Dynak said. “He was not totally sure that we could raise the requisite funding to do that.”
The Westminster Center for the Arts was then reiterated to become The Center for Innovation and Creativity.
“It still had some arts components, but it broadened to involve new interdisciplinary spaces,” Dynak said.
The latest presentation to the Board of Trustees was also shut down, although, another proposal is in the works, having to do with more education.
“Perhaps a Montessori lab school,” Dynak said. “Moving the school of education there, moving some new interdisciplinary spaces there, creating hub spaces for entrepreneurs and digital education competency-based education.”
The new Provost Lisa Gentile plans to form a group to investigate possible uses for Garfield.
However, the date and semester when they will start meeting has not been solidified.
According to Dynak, the biggest reason why the status of Garfield has remained stagnant is due to financial reasons.
“So far, we haven’t been able to find a donor who wants to commit $4–5 million to a project, a vision,” Dynak said. “I think in our lifetimes here, we aren’t going to see anything happen at the Garfield School unless a donor were to surface.”
The deteriorating building does have its uses though, such as free housing for spiders, storage and extra parking spaces.
With no renovation date in sight, the Westminster Theatre Department has started using the space for storage.
Harrison Corthell, sophomore theatre major, said he has been to Garfield many times to bring set items over.
“I’d like to see it turn into some kind of community arts space for the campus,” Corthell said. “[The theatre department is] a growing department. We need the room, and we are already using the space. So why not let us develop it?”
Curtis Ryan, vice president of finance and administration, said if students don’t mind a 10 minute walk, they can use the parking lot for free.
“I’ve walked it myself,” Ryan said. “I parked there half a year, once.”
Ryan recognizes that the property has not moved forward since its purchase in 2011.
“Our plans are not to leave it as is,” he said. “A lot of the support for the campus live around the college, so there’s a lot of ties to the Garfield Elementary School that overlap into Westminster College. What we do there, we want to do right.”
Until a final design is reached, Garfield’s halls will continue to be frozen in time with abandoned textbooks, eerie wall messages and boarded-up, broken windows.