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Sandy Journal

Alta High graduates first to use new performing arts center; school remodeling continues

Aug 17, 2020 03:20PM ● By Julie Slama

Construction on the main building at Alta High over the summer included installing exterior windows in the mostly brick, 42-year-old building. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It wasn’t the traditional commencement, but Alta High graduates had something special added to their celebration—they were the first to use the school’s new performing arts center.

Spaced 6 feet apart because of the guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic, Alta’s Madrigals sang the national anthem and a variation of the Irish blessing on the steps in the foyer, which in early May was still undergoing finishing touches, about five months behind schedule. 

Graduating senior vocalist Brianne Crismon and musicians Ebony Liu, Olivia Bradley and Ellie Gehrett also performed in the foyer.

While the auditorium sits 1,400, senior class president Anderson Da Silva Leguizamon spoke to a nearly empty hall as the celebration was videotaped, pieced together and made available on the school website. 

Others speaking for the videotaped commencement include seniors Caroline Wolf and Katie Drennan, Principal Brian McGill, Canyons Board of Education member Chad Iverson and Canyons School District Superintendent Jim Briscoe. Assistant Superintendent Bob Dowdle certified the class of 2020.

Likewise, graduating seniors had to sign up to walk across the stage individually—and get their first glimpses of the inside of the free-standing performing arts center west of the main entrance—and be photographed with their principal, to a not-filled auditorium, in keeping with the guidelines of the state and county health departments. 

In the graduation video’s final scene, a handful of seniors, sitting every few seats from each another in the first few rows, move their tassels to signify their passing of the rites, sing the school song and throw up their motarboards in celebration.

Construction at the school and on the new auditorium began in June 2018 with the direction of “make it look brand new,” said Brian Peterson, VCBO Architecture associate.

“Alta was hit hard when Corner Canyon opened up seven years ago, so we wanted to bring Alta up to show how beautiful a building it is,” he said.

The performing arts center, designed to blend in with the nearby Wasatch landscape, stands on the northwest corner of the campus and has large letters spelling Alta and electronic marquees to announce upcoming events—or in this case, showcase graduating seniors’ photos. A reflective mirror entrance allowed graduates to take memorable photos.

Large acoustic wall panels—the 11th tallest in the world and tallest in the United States—lend balance to the sound in the auditorium, according to Peterson.

“They were also faster in terms of construction and it was more economical,” he said.

The auditorium features a full fly loft and an orchestra pit. There are 12 wheelchair seats and elevators to ensure it is ADA accessible. Seventy feet above the stage is the catwalk and rigging, and below stage, is the center’s own air conditioning and heating system.

“We want it to feel bigger than it is so we have designed the auditorium to be darker at the floor to lighter near the ceiling so it really pops,” Peterson said.

Behind the stage, there are rooms for costume changes, a green room to warm up in for musical or theatrical productions, and a make-up room with ample lighting as well as storage spaces. Immediately outside the auditorium are men’s and women’s restrooms with 16 stalls, and a couple unisex restrooms.

Assistant Principal Garry True said he could have retired, but after spending years talking over the plans and with his background in construction, he “wanted to see this through.” While there isn’t enough seats for the entire student body, True said they will likely continue to hold multiple school assemblies.

“I’m just proud of how it has turned out,” he said. “The whole project is going to be kind of awesome.”

From the performing arts center, students can walk east across the new courtyard with cement benches that are shaped to spell Alta. Above the courtyard are hanging outdoor lights.

On the west wall of the 42-year-old building, new 18-feet tall windows are being installed to allow more natural lighting.

Alta counselor Christine Astle, who has worked 12 years at the school, is especially excited for that.

“With our windows and natural lighting, we will have a lighter feeling inside,” she said. “Until you’re inside the old school, you don’t realize how uninviting it was without windows.”

Already underway is the moving of the counseling offices as well as the theater and music classrooms.

Some students will forever be memorialized in those classrooms as they painted on the walls—and instead of those walls being torn down, they will be hidden behind new walls.

“They weren’t supposed to, so those in the future, if they are ever uncovered, will know who they were,” True said with a smile.

There will be a secure vestibule, a Hawk lounge, an alumni room, a career center, a tech atrium, updated kitchen, new green room for broadcasts, and a remodeled commons area that is designed to be “open, bright, functional, flexible” and will have its roof raised 20 feet to allow skylight installation for even more natural lighting.

The commons and lunchroom and new offices will be completed in winter 2020, said Leon Wilcox, business manager and chief financial officer. 

The former auditorium will have its seats removed and the floor leveled and converted to a choir and band suite while the stage will turn into a 100-seat black box theatre.

Also being updated are the lights in the classrooms; a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; an audio-alarm system; the gymnasium floor, a soccer field and stadium lights. Already, the school has been using a new field house, that overlooks the track and football field, that opened last September.

The cost of Alta’s remodeling and construction is $53.5 million, Wilcox said. It was funded as one of several projects in the $283-million bond approved in November 2017.

Architect Peterson said that a construction crew of about 90 from Hughes General Contractors have been working on the school, with some delays—such as carpeting—because of COVID-19. 

“Just because students aren’t here, doesn’t mean it’s quiet,” assistant principal True said. “It’s exciting to take the building from a design stage more than two years ago, to seeing it come into realization.”