Public Issues

Police or Painters? The Future of Garfield Elementary and the Visual Arts Institute

Bruce Robertson in the Visual Art Institute

Salt Lake City residents, especially those in the Sugar House area, have a decision to make: What to do with the Garfield Elementary school located at 1838 South and 1500 East.

Garfield hasn’t been an elementary school for more than 20 years now, but it has remained an educational facility, housing a Montessori daycare, a Horizonte outreach program, and the Visual Arts Institute. The Visual Arts Institute develops children’s talents by providing in-depth training in the visual arts. Students range from elementary age to high school, come from all economic situations and travel from as far away as Utah County to attend. Garfield Elementary has been the Institute’s home for 20 years and the Institute hoped to keep it that way for years to come.

Realizing the Salt Lake School District would eventually need to sell the building, the Institute has been developing plans to purchase the property, update and transform the building while maintaining its architectural heritage and turn part of its parking lot (which overlooks a covered portion of Parleys Creek) into a neighborhood green space. But as Institute director Bruce Robertson explains, they thought they had a few years to develop the idea and raise the money to purchase the property.

They were surprised, then, when the Salt Lake School Board announced this summer that it was selling the property and that Salt Lake City, which had right of first refusal, bought it.

Salt Lake City property manager John Spencer says the City purchased Garfield because they had a “unique opportunity to acquire a parcel of land on the east side.” Due to funding issues, he doesn’t anticipate any major changes to the use of the property for at least a year and any eventual decision will be made after a public process. He notes that the City has been eager to establish a police precinct on the east side.

Robertson says the Institute would still like to purchase the property. Their plans for Garfield would mean much more than keeping the status quo, he says. A large reception area, available to the public would dominate the central portion of the building. The Institute would use a portion of the classrooms for its classes in the afternoon, but would make them available to professionals and other educational institutes during the day. Facilities for a print shop, artist studios, a gallery and a library are all in the plans. The new building would become both a neighborhood attraction as well as a hub for the visual arts.

Spencer says the city has no plans of disposing of the property, however. “We didn’t purchase it as an intermediary for any other party . . . We don’t anticipate we’re going to dispose of it.” Whatever the City decides, it will be “for the betterment of the community” Spencer says.

Concerned citizens are invited to attend a meeting about the property with council person Dave Buhler on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 7:00 p.m. in the Garfield gymnasium (1838 South and 1500 East).



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