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New West High School in Salt Lake could improve security efforts

West High School In Salt Lake City on Dec. 14, 2022. (Photo: KUTV)
West High School In Salt Lake City on Dec. 14, 2022. (Photo: KUTV)
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A new West High School in Salt Lake City could potentially boost security measures for the school.

Janice Demchak’s partner Mike has fond memories of his time at West High School; so much so that he and Janice decided they wanted to purchase a West High t-shirt to remember his time there.

The retired pair made their way to West High School, parked their car, then stood by one of the side entrances for a minute or two before a student exited, then they entered.

The couple wandered the halls looking for a bookstore to purchase the shirts.

Demchak said after a few minutes, she had an uneasy thought.

“I said, you know, we could have been carrying a knife or even guns, because nobody seemed to question where we were going or what we were wanting in the building,” Demchak said.

Demchak was also quick to point out that an elderly couple in the school likely didn’t pose much of a threat, but still, she said, they could have.

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West High School is the oldest school in Utah. It was built in 1922. It borrows its architectural flourishes from the 16th century. It has one of the most unique facades in the state and many of the students describe the building as “cool" but said what’s not “cool” is how cramped it is, expensive it is to maintain, and how difficult it is to keep safe.

The school has at least 14 entrances and with students coming and going from all of them all day long, it is difficult to keep unauthorized people out of the building.

Paul Shulte is in charge of maintaining the iconic structure.

He said when the school was built in the 20s, then added on to in the 60s and 70s, none of the designers could have envisioned the era of school shootings now plaguing America today.

Shulte said reducing the number of ways into the building is a must.

“Security is obviously an issue for every school throughout the country,” Shulte said. “You can get down to two or three primary entrances and exits but still make sure the building is inviting."

Security is just one of the pressing reasons why the district is considering not only West but Highland High School for rebuild. The schools are cramped, old and inefficient. In the case of West, finding replacement parts for the ancient innards is virtually impossible.

“It gets difficult to repair them, to find the appropriate parts to replace them, eventually you have to make an investment,” Shulte said.

In addition, a new building would decrease West’s energy bills from $600,000 a year to $300,000.

David Amott with Preservation Utah is encouraging the district to try to retool the old building.

He says Ogden schools did the same thing with their historic high school recently. He also pointed out that South High on State Street in Salt Lake City was retrofitted to act as a campus for Salt Lake Community College.

The district was quick to point out that nothing was etched in stone, there was still a lot of discussion to be had before any decisions were made on the schools.

For Janine, she loves the old building, but loves the idea of keeping children safe just as much.

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“I don't know what sort of protection there is for the students, that was my biggest concern,” she said.

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