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New report throws cold water on hopes for a west side high school in Salt Lake City

The boundaries for East High in Salt Lake City, seen here on May 22, 2024, extend across I-15 to west side neighborhoods like Glendale and Poplar Grove.
Martha Harris
The boundaries for East High in Salt Lake City, seen here on May 22, 2024, extend across I-15 to west side neighborhoods like Glendale and Poplar Grove.

For years, families on Salt Lake’s west side have wanted the city’s school district to build a new high school in their community. Right now the district’s three high schools are all east of I-15.

But a recent study commissioned by the district doesn’t show a lot of hope of that happening.

The report by Arizona-based company Applied Economics and a couple of district employees was presented to the board during its May 21 meeting.

Overall, it pointed out the district’s declining enrollment, which is projected to keep going down. This year, the district voted to close four elementary schools. Those declines haven’t been felt as much at the high school level, but the report notes they will be. It projects the district’s high school enrollment will go down by 700 students over the next decade. This excludes students who go to district high schools, but don’t live within its boundaries.

“I don’t see it, you know, ever going back even above existing levels,” said Rick Brammer, the principal at Applied Economics. He told the board high school enrollment will probably go down over the next four to five years before rebounding.

As for the cause, declining birth rates, gentrification and fewer families living in the city were all listed.

Another factor to building a new high school is where to put it.

Isaac Astill, the district’s executive director of auxiliary services, told the board they would need at least 30 acres west of I-15. Astill said he looked but didn’t find any areas that would be a solid candidate for a new school.

It was difficult news to hear for board members and the community members who attended the meeting.

Board president Nate Salazar said this is a problem the board inherited.

“I've always kind of said that the work on this is like 25 years too late or the ‘ask’ is 25 years too late,” he said.

After hearing the report, Superintendent Elizabeth Grant said they “don’t see a way forward, right now, at this time.” But with that, Grant said the district’s responsibility is to serve students.

“I think that may not be happening right now because we have advocates here who are advocating for a school for their kids.”

She said the district needs to look “at what we must do together with our communities to serve them better,” and that the conversation needs to happen now.

“It will lead to change. It needs to lead to change in how we do some things. I welcome the community’s input and thoughts on those things that will serve you and your families.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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