New Union Middle School blends tradition with high-tech innovationOct 12, 2023 01:43PM ● By Julie Slama
After students and Canyons Board of Education Vice President Mont Millerberg cut the official ribbon, Union Middle families celebrated walking through the new school. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
It’s Andrea Iverson’s 10th year teaching sixth-grade social studies at Union Middle School—and it’s unlike any previous.
She and her colleagues recently moved into the new Union Middle School, which is nearing competition.
“I love it,” Iverson said. “I love the light that we have illuminating our rooms. Before I was in the 500 hall, and I had a shower window that looked out of the hall and you couldn’t see out of it. I love these garage doors that we can open to collaborate with others in our pod. We have a lot of fun plans to collaborate with English and have the kids practicing their writing skills with social studies. I teach an ELD (English language development) class where the kids do some independent reading, so I can take a group in our pod so they can chill on the couch and read. And I really do love not having cords all over my classroom just to use technology.”
Those were some of the teachers’ wishes two years ago when the ground broke for the new 219,000-square-foot school that was constructed on the former school playing field at 615 E. 8000 South. The entire school project—building, design and equipment—totals $62 million, which was made possible through the $283-million bond measure approved by CSD voters in 2017, said Leon Wilcox, Canyons School District’s business administrator and chief financial officer.
It is the final planned rebuild in Canyons School District that, during its 15 years, has rebuilt or remodeled 23 schools with two bonds. Wilcox said that after the split with Jordan School District, Canyons acquired about $650 million in overdue maintenance on its buildings and some schools’ needs, including Union’s, were so great, it was less expensive to rebuild the schools and equip them for today’s learning than to make repairs.
The community was welcomed by nearby Hillcrest High’s drumline and cheerleaders at an official ribbon cutting and walk through of the school building, which was delayed a few weeks because of shortages caused by the COVID supply chain as well as a shortage of workers. As a result, Union students began this school year virtually.
“We didn’t know that coming from a worldwide pandemic we would see material shortage or labor shortage and supply chain issues; remote learning is not how we envisioned starting the school year,” said Canyons Board of Education Vice President Mont Millerberg, who shares representing elementary schools that feed into Union Middle with board member Karen Pedersen. “I did want to applaud VCBO Architecture and Hughes general contractor for working overtime for the last couple of months to get us across the finish line.”
Millerberg has personal ties to Union as two of his children attended the former school, where his wife taught, and both she and he served on the school community council.
While the school is named after the historic pioneer Fort Union that was in the area, he also implies “a place where families come together and find strength in our community.”
Pedersen reminded students that they are still the Bobcats.
“So many memories will be tied to this new building, but I want you to remember the tradition that you had for 55 years,” she said. “Nothing has changed. You are still the same community. The same strength, the same enthusiasm, the same support and the traditions will live on. You just have a new home. You will be able to build new friendships and discover talents and gain new skills. The legacy of Union is told through its students and the lives they lead when they leave here.”
Before families toured the new school, school principal Brenda McCann thanked not only Supt. Rick Robins, Canyons Board of Education and voters who made it possible, but also the neighbors who put up with the noise and dust. She said she was grateful for the teachers who began teaching the year remotely and simultaneously, got classrooms ready for students.
Students walked through, locating their classes, and with their families, enjoyed a hot dog dinner in the new cafeteria and commons area.
Seventh-grader Isaac Sebresos said with core classes being held together in pods, it will be easier to get to class on time. He also said it’s bigger (about 35,000 square feet larger) and “cool looking.”
His older brother, Roman, a Union alum who now is a sophomore at Hillcrest, said that there are more places to sit and study in the new school.
Within the commons, VCBO Architecture Project Manager Brian Peterson pointed out some unique features, including the “learning pyramid” steps.
“I love how the commons pours out into the student courtyard here,” he said. “We built the learning pyramid so that the students can get access to the second floor, but they can also sit with their friends to eat or have a lesson. Maybe it’s going to include a video, which a video wall is going to be installed on the wall here.”
Outside the commons, a ninja course is being constructed.
“That’s going to be pretty cool. The kids already are waiting for it,” Peterson said.
Within the commons is a kaleidoscope.
“That’s one of the things I’m most proud of is this art display. There are 20 different colored panels of glazing, and the light comes in at different times of the day to create this fascinating, different-colored kaleidoscope. I was inspired by the beautiful basilica, Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, (Spain),” he said.
Peterson also is pleased that the main entry’s skylights will hit elaborate woven fabric panels, once installed, to cast “cool shadows” on the floor.
“I didn’t have a very good educational experience as a child; the schools I went to were horrible. When I knew I wanted to be an architect, I wanted to design cool schools so I can give students a better experience than I had. It’s a great opportunity to serve the community and the future,” he said.
Other features include a makerspace within the high-tech media center, a gym with an indoor track and adaptive equipment, a wellness room, a presentation room nicknamed the “Bobcat Den,” and a modern auditorium that will be completed later in the school year. New grass playfields will be replanted in the spring.
While many applauded the new building, former principal Ann White who served at the school 1996-97, fondly remembered the previous school’s atrium.
“One of the most fun things and a unique feature at Union was having the open atrium,” she said. “A pair of ducks flew in and built a nest, and they had nine little ducklings. So, the science team got a pool, and built a ramp (to the children’s plastic pool) for the little ducklings to be able to swim around. Then, when the ducklings had to get out, they’d put their little bills over the edge and flip themselves out. The kids would stop and watch them between classes and the people in the neighborhood, would come by to see the nest of ducklings and they were protected by that atrium. They certainly made a splash that year.” λ