OGDEN — Rebecca D. Lockhart, speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, was driving through Ogden awhile back when a piece of history appeared outside her car window.
Lockhart, R-Provo, spied the art deco palace, Ogden High School, on Harrison Boulevard.
“So many communities would rip it down and replace it,” Lockhart said Monday. “It says a lot about Ogden that you would take it on yourself to restore it and save it.”
Lockhart’s friend James Humphreys, vice president of Utah’s chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans and an Ogden resident, told Lockhart he could set up an insider’s tour of the architectural landmark.
Lockhart, the first female speaker of the Utah House, got her tour Monday, with commentary by Ogden High Principal Stacey Briggs and several other school and school district officials.
“That’s one thing that is great at Ogden,” said Briggs, who was an assistant principal in Provo until she took the Ogden High job a year ago.
“Provo is letting their history and their memories slip away from them. Ogden is not.”
Humphreys said he leaped at the chance to bring Lockhart to Ogden.
“It’s great exposure for the community,” he said. “Legislators have their own jobs and their lives, and they don’t often get to see the impact of the changes they help make on a practical level. Exposure helps the whole state.”
The group toured the marble-and-walnut hallways and saw the tile medallion in front of the new front office area.
They looked into a classroom where teachers were planning their first weeks’ lessons, and they walked through the ornate auditorium, restored and renovated with $9 million raised by the Ogden School Foundation.
“I’m not sure I could be in that auditorium and look at the stage,” Lockhart said.
“I would be looking at up at the beautiful plaster work.”
The tour continued with a walk through laboratory classrooms, the sun-lit atrium lunchroom and the library, which is still closed for renovations.
Briggs said she was thrilled when, after months at her job, she discovered the trash cans built into the walls of the hallways, with room for receptacles hidden behind waist-high hardwood doors.
“I was so excited, I got on the intercom and told all the teachers,” Briggs said, laughing.
Lockhart was struck by the elegance of the old school, she said. She also appreciated its new functionality and high-tech features. And she commented on the school’s increased graduation rate, to be announced by state officials in August.
“There were only just a few seniors that didn’t get diplomas,” Lockhart said. “You can see the commitment of the teachers and the administration to students here.”
Lockhart said she was also impressed a few months ago when she traveled through Ogden’s downtown area.
“A lot of cities this size can learn a lot from those efforts. Ogden has created a place to be downtown,” she said.
“There is so much activity for families there. The downtown engages the community.
“When you create places where people feel safe in the community, it’s a great thing. I think people support local businesses when they can get to them.”
Lockhart said some state legislators liked to think of government as a “super school board,” trying to call the shots for everyone, but she believes local school boards are in the best position to know what they need and to make good decisions.
“But the more empowered local districts are, the more accountable you need to be,” she said.
“I wish people took as much interest in who they support for school board as they are of who they support for president. The mayor, the city council member, the school board, these are the people who affect your daily life.”