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Sandy Journal

Developers save old Crescent Elementary, bring Shake Shack to Sandy

Aug 29, 2019 11:07AM ● By Heather Lawrence

The School Yard is the name for the new development, which includes the first Shake Shack restaurant in Utah, and pays homage to its history as a school. (Robert Booth/Wadsworth Development)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Sandy’s growth means new places to eat. Shake Shack opened Aug. 3 and proved that the present doesn’t have to demolish the past. Wadsworth Development Group has owned the old Valley High building at 11100 South State Street for years, and saved the oldest parts of the building. They christened the development the School Yard.

“You can still see the indent in the walls over there — that’s where a chalkboard used to be,” said Sharon Jensen of Sandy on Aug. 2 at a VIP opening event. Jensen, the current principal of Valley High School, sat at the alumni table with friends and coworkers who had connections to the old Crescent Elementary School and Valley High School. 

Jensen and her friend Anne Bailey of Sandy said the building was important to the community. “I have so many good memories of this place. I’d drive by and wonder, ‘What are they going to do with it? I hope they don’t tear it down,’” Bailey said.  

“This part of the building is from 1928. It had the cafeteria and six classrooms, and there was a gym below. We’re really happy with how they used it,” Jensen said. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Buildings in 2000 as the Crescent Elementary School, but listed buildings can be torn down. 


Nick Duerksen is the economic development director for Sandy City who played a major role in projects like Hale Center Theatre, the inContact building, Scheels and now the School Yard. 

“Back in 2011 and 2012 the school district still owned the building. They wanted someone to rent it. We got calls and emails from people in the Crescent area who wanted to keep the old school. Then the recession hit,” Duerksen said. 

“The district sold the building to Wadsworth. It’s nearly 100 years old and we had to get inside and assess it. The brick and other things were in much better shape than you would have thought. Structurally, it was in good shape, but we had to bring it up to code,” Duerksen said. “Frankly, it took extra time and money, but we saved the old school, which was huge for the neighborhood.” 

Robert Booth is director of development at Wadsworth. He worked on the project, and said he felt it was something special. “I got more calls on this building! We really heard from the community. There were concerned residents and past students. There was a lot of history and a lot of emotion,” Booth said. 

Some people asked them to save it, but others just asked to be able to walk through it one last time, Booth said. Wadsworth considered demolishing it. “That would have been the most economical and efficient thing to do,” Booth said. 

“There was a tremendous amount of interest in the space. Shake Shack toured it two years ago. They loved the School Yard concept. We renovated the building, and ended up tearing down some of it, but were able to keep the oldest parts,” Booth said. 

Wadsworth built more on the five-acre lot, but Booth said they looked to the older building for reference. “The building we built next to Shake Shack is the grandson. We incorporated architectural features from the old school like rounded windows for consistency. When the whole thing is done, there will be four buildings,” said Booth. 

Mo Bettah’s and Vessel Kitchen will also open restaurants in the School Yard space soon, but the first to open was Shake Shack on Aug. 3. 

Shake Shack is a burger and fry chain that started in New York in 2004. They have locations all over the world. This is their first restaurant in Utah. Andrew McLaughlin, chief development officer, said they loved the story behind the location.

“We fell in love with the older building, and were blown away by [Wadsworth’s] vision. The building was a very strong factor in determining our opening our first Utah restaurant in Sandy,” McLaughlin said. 

“Our goal is to create a restaurant that comes from the community and not something we just implant in the community. Landlord partners and builders that embody the sentiment of community gathering speak to us. Reusing an old building with great bones speaks to us; it’s the core of who we are as a brand,” said McLaughlin. 

Chris Cummings was brought from a Denver Shake Shack location to be the general manager. “This restaurant is actually opening three weeks ahead of schedule. They’ve preserved the brick and the design — the design team did a great job,” Cummings said. 

“We knew the roots were important to the community, so we want it to be a gathering place for them. We’ve got board games here for people to play, and there are permanent ping pong tables out in the yard. And we’re always looking for employees, so visit our website if you’re interested,” said Cummings. 

Duerksen said this project overall has gone really well. “If people hear rumors, they can call me. But we haven’t had a single complaint on this project. I’ve not had anyone tell me they don’t like what we’ve done with the location,” Duerksen said. “It was one of those things where everything aligned. It was a perfect marriage of what the community wanted and the space and the business.”