OGDEN — The halls were crowded at Ogden High School on Wednesday night — not with students but with community members, alumni and state leaders coming to take a peek at what $63 million and a whole lot of community support will do for a school.
The Ogden High renovation project is now complete and people came from all along the Wasatch Front to look around. District officials estimated slightly more than 1,000 turned out to see the renovated school.
Words like phenomenal, dazzling, speechless and awestruck were uttered over and over as people took self-guided tours through the halls of the school that was originally constructed in the late 1930s during the Great Depression. Many mentioned the parallel that the school has now been renovated during a great recession in the past six years.
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, a 1966 Ogden High graduate, spoke of the significance during his remarks at the open house.
“People have been so generous during this very difficult financial time,” Bell said.
“How would you like to raise $9 million during the depths of this great recession?” Bell asked, referring to the $9 million that was raised in private donations to renovate the auditorium.
Many touring the facility were impressed with the way the design mixed the old architecture with the needed updates for students in the 21st century.
“I love how they kept so much of the original design, but there are neat new features, like the commons area,” said Richard Jenson, who graduated from the school in 1971. Jenson lives in Logan, but took a drive to visit his old school.
“I thought it was a neat opportunity to see what they’ve done to my school. I’m blown away. I love it,” he said as he looked at the newly renovated library.
Kirk Huffaker, executive director of the Utah Heritage Foundation, said he’s speechless as he looks around the school. He has been on board with the project for the past decade since talks started about the renovation.
“It’s amazing for the people of Ogden, the students, the alumni — for the pride you feel just to be in this place,” Huffaker said.
Families snapped pictures in front of some of their favorite spots and shared stories of their time at Ogden High School.
Some alumni wore old letterman jackets or sweaters. Carol Conroy Browning proudly wore her Tigerette sweater and class ring as she toured the school and sat in the auditorium, soaking everything in. Her father was a principal of the school; his picture hangs in the library. She said she loved her high school years and loves watching the students enjoy their high school now. She has watched the renovation unfold and been on several school tours during the process.
“I’m very happy that so many in the community came to see,” Browning said, smiling. “It’s nice to see what we can do with our taxes.”
Superintendent Brad Smith echoed that sentiment.
“We want to honor those that pay the taxes in our city, county and state that made this all possible,” Smith said.
Both he and Bell said the support of the community needs to continue to help the students succeed, which is a very attainable goal, Smith said.
“Now we have the great task before us to make the education equal to the architectural grandeur,” Smith said.
The students are ready to rise to the occasion. “Being here makes us want to have more respect, and we can do that,” said student body officer Annet Unda. She and her fellow officers helped guide people through the building on Wednesday and enjoyed the interactions they had.
“It’s amazing to speak to (alumni) and hear the histories of the school,” student body officer Mari Cruz said. The girls said it’s an honor to be able to follow in the footsteps of those who went before, and they want to carry on the excellent traditions.
“We so appreciate everything they have done for us,” Unda said.
Former Superintendent Noel Zabriskie brought family members to tour the school and was very pleased by everything he saw. He said when all the planning started for the renovations, this day of completion seemed out of focus, because so much needed to be done and it was so far away, but he is not at all surprised by the grandeur of the school.
“Forty years ago when we brought our family here, we saw how cohesive this community is and how supportive of tradition. It is fabulous,” Zabriskie said.
He also expressed his thanks to the students, some of whom never got to attend the school when it wasn’t under construction.
Current and former students capped the evening by quietly standing while the chamber choir sang the school hymn. Tears of happiness were shed and cheers and applause erupted as Principal Stacey Briggs spoke of the bright future awaiting the students.