OGDEN -- Ogden High students are learning biology and chemistry in pristine, modern labs for the first time in many generations.
Choral and band students are practicing in rooms that didn't exist last year.
Ogden High School's $65 million restoration is two-thirds complete.
Construction crews are still working hard on the northern end of the 1937, art deco-style school, which is known for the complex masonry of its beige-brick exterior and its zigzag roofline.
But in the center and the southern end of Ogden High, young minds are focused and classes go on.
Just down the original marble hallways with the walnut wainscoting is the ornate auditorium, with new lighting and sound, but original chandeliers and renewed plasterwork in decorative, painted and gilded designs.
Private donors gave $8.8 million to restore and upgrade the historic stage and auditorium that would impress a Broadway crowd. Asbestos is gone, and the seismic upgrade required to bring the school up to earthquake code is complete in the occupied parts of the school.
Students train in the gym complex completed in phase one of the renovation project, and everyone dines in the modernized lunchroom, starting its third year of use.
Crews are working to replace the school's 600 or so windows with panes that will cut drafts and help retain heat, and will keep in the cool from the most welcome of innovations, air conditioning.
In 2005, some considered the iconic landmark nothing more than an antiquated "tear down." But then school loyalty kicked in and razing the "castle on Harrison Boulevard" became unthinkable.
Ogden High School was both built and restored during hard economic times.
Janis Vause, head of the Ogden School Foundation, which raised the private funds for the auditorium, believes she has figured out why alumni and community members stepped forward to save the school.
"I've never seen such a passion and loyalty to a high school," said Vause, a Bonneville High alumna whose children graduated from Ogden High.
"I think the loyalty has a lot to do with the bricks and mortar. It was built during the Depression, and a lot of people sacrificed a lot to build something so beautiful.
"When you sacrifice for something, it means all the more to you. I think those feelings of passion and sacrifice at the beginning stayed with the school, and people who go in the building know they are in a special place."
The lavish building cost a little more than $1 million when it was built during President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration as a New Deal project intended to create local jobs.
The West's first million-dollar school educated generations of Ogden children, but by 2005, the school was in dire need of both cosmetic and structural work.
In June 2006, voters passed a $95.3 million bond to build or remodel several schools in Ogden School District. Besides Ogden High School, remodeling funds went to Ben Lomond High, as well as to Highland, Mound Fort and Mount Ogden junior highs. Heritage and Shadow Valley elementary schools were built with bond funds.
Work on Ogden High has continued with two additional Qualified Zone Academy Bonds. QZAB bonds are available through the U.S. Department of Education to low-income school districts with buildings in need of repair.
Ogden School District asked the Ogden School Foundation to raise private funds for the auditorium because historic preservation is much more costly than simple repair. The foundation formed a Catalyst Committee, co-chaired by Alan E. Hall, OHS class of '63.
Committee members made initial donations, then hired a consulting firm to study the project's feasibility.
"The report came back that it would be easy to raise $13 million or more," Hall said.
"Next thing you know, the economy changed, and people we had hoped could give were worried about their stock portfolios and their futures. A lot of people lost a third of their money, or more. They were uncertain about their futures.
"Now we were going to have some trouble. It would be tough sledding."
The committee reset its goal to $9 million and told the school board it would not be able to finance window replacement, as originally hoped.
Hall said his committee then approached many of the same potential donors with a request to pledge over a three- to five-year period, rather than in a lump sum.
The Stewart Education Foundation gave $1.2 million. The George S. & Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation and the Nancy Eccles & Homer M. Hayward Family Foundation each donated $1 million.
In all, more than 1,000 groups and individuals came forward with donations, Hall said.
"People at all economic wealth levels really reached into their pockets to make contributions," he said. "A $10 donation from some is a large and significant sacrifice. Everybody sacrificed. Everybody made an effort."
Patrick Alcorn, of Hughes General Contracting, is the Ogden High School project manager.
"I would say we have about 30 percent of the project left to do," he said.
"We have to bring the north end of the building up to code, structurally, and build the new media center and restore all the classrooms in that end of the building.
"We'll also be putting in a professional kitchen with multiple work stations for students."
Alcorn said the biggest part of the job has been the seismic upgrade, which required drilling micropiles through the roofline and deep into the soil beneath the school to add structural support.
Other than the structural upgrade and roof replacement, the trickiest part of the job has been working around the building's historic features.
"We had to protect those elements that were staying," Alcorn said. "A lot of marble and wainscoting was staying in place, and we had to work around it."
The work is scheduled to be complete in December 2012, Alcorn said.
Vause said she has been amazed with all that has been achieved in a time when money is tight.
"People have been very generous in tough economic times," Vause said of her fundraising experience for Ogden High.
"We kept on trying, and kept on trying, and now we are there."
Ogden High School
• LOCATION: 2828 Harrison Blvd.
• COST: $1.2 million when built in 1937; now undergoing a $65 million renovation
• SIZE: Main building, 211,000 square feet; gym building, 53,000 square feet; shop building, 27,600 square feet
• ENROLLMENT: Estimated at 1,100
• STAFF: The school has a new principal this year, Stacey Briggs, formerly vice
principal at Provo High School. Ogden High has 64 licensed employees, which include teachers, guidance counselors and a media specialist, as well as 36 additional employees.
• TIDBIT: Ogden High sells 48 percent more school lunches than it did two years ago. District officials say the renovated cafeteria and commons areas keep more students from leaving campus for lunch, only to return late or leave for the day.