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Sandy Journal

A new Union school underway, continues rich tradition of educating community

Aug 05, 2021 02:37PM ● By Julie Slama

Confetti flies as Union Middle School students turn the dirt for the new school building that will be ready by fall 2023. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Once a Bobcat, always a Bobcat.

Through 170 years of having a school in what was Union, which now is incorporated into the cities of Cottonwood Heights, Midvale and Sandy, students have been proud of their school.

However, the school has undergone many changes and rebuilds since the first winter when it opened to 30 students. The current Union Middle School was built in 1968.

But writer and area resident Joyce Thorum Wilson graduated from a different Union school building in 1941.

Wilson, who was the class secretary and played clarinet and saxophone in their band and orchestra, was one of those in attendance at the April 22 groundbreaking for a new Union Middle School. Alongside her was her husband, Tom, who was a substitute teacher at this Union school, the same one their son attended.

“Union brings a lot of memories of the teachers, principals, classmates,” she said. “We learned a lot about the world, and we went out to see it.”

In the two-and-a-half months since the groundbreaking, the walls of six classrooms that were added to the original design in the late 1970s have been demolished and the green playing field is no longer as the new school will be built on the land east of its current site at 615 E. 8000 South. Crews from Hughes Contractor already are working on the new school’s footings and by late fall, the walls are expected to go up.

Students are expected to study in the existing building until the new school is ready by fall 2023.

Designed by VCBO Architecture, the new school, that will sport the school colors of blue and yellow, will have state-of-the-art technology as well as skylights to allow natural light to fill the building.

The classroom wings, located near the main office, will have collaborative spaces for each grade level. An additional wing will house students with disabilities and a collaborative area for psychologists, speech pathologists and others. An adapted PE area, that includes a ramp and outdoor learning equipment, for those with physical disabilities is planned as well.

The performing arts area, with a 650-seat auditorium, will be located near the main office as well as arts and career and technical education classes. There also will be the Bobcat Den, a large learning space where multiple classes can meet, or it might house district professional development staff meetings.

The gymnasium, which will feature an indoor track, will be used for dance and PE classes; it will be located closer to the cafeteria. The family and consumer sciences rooms will include a culinary set-up with steel moveable tables so the room can be shaped in lines or in a U-shape to watch demonstrations.

Equipment that is similar to that on “American Ninja Warrior” as well as a climbing wall will be located off of the cafeteria, said Principal Kelly Tauteoli.

“The play equipment will be safe, and it will be an option that during lunch, they can complete the challenge,” she said. “The new Union Middle will be a beautiful space, a place that the community can be proud of, and that will facilitate great learning and activities. Our students make some remarkable achievements, and this new school will only further help them in their learning and successes.”

Competing on challenging obstacle courses at lunch is a far cry from the wartime years when Wilson was in school.

“We had a radio, so we knew what was happening with the fireside chats. We knew about rations of gas, food, shoes, but the teachers kept us busy and always were supportive with choir, athletics and everything,” she said.

One big assignment Wilson recalled was when her seventh-grade history teacher, Kenneth Brady, took the students to where the old Union Fort was and measured where the schoolhouse was as well.

“We built a model of the fort, and it was on display for years and years at the state capitol. We even interviewed those people who were around and old enough to remember it,” she said, adding that the class assignment helped to inspire her to write a two-act pioneer musical, “They Came to Union Fort,” about the founding of Union.

Ninja warriors also weren’t a part of Board of Education member Mont Millerberg experience with Union as he had two of his kids attend class at the current school and his wife taught there. Both he and his wife served on the school community council.

“This old building holds a lot of memories for us, and I feel privileged to take part in the process to rebuild it,” he said. “It’s going to be a beautiful, bold addition to the neighborhood.”

The new school was made possible by the voters’ approval of a $283-million tax-neutral bond to modernize and upgrade Canyons School District schools in November 2017. The construction cost of Union comes in at $57 million, said Leon Wilcox, Canyons District’s business administrator.

Supt. Rick Robins is excited for the new Union Middle.

“Over the past five decades, tens of thousands of students have walked Union Middle’s halls on a pathway to accessing the American dream,” he said. “It’s an honor to be a part of that history and to help usher in the next chapter.”