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South Jordan Journal

Elk Ridge Middle opened to in atypical conditions, ends 25th year unprecedentedly

Jun 15, 2020 12:48PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

When Phillip Munk and Jared Larson were eighth graders, they remembered that opening year of Elk Ridge Middle School when they began classes before the building was finished.

“For me, it meant not having to take the bus out to Bingham Jr. High in Copperton,” Munk said. “That was nice. We voted on the school color and mascot, and my favorite class was the one that didn’t give homework.”

Larsen said he remembers eating pepperoni pizza all the time on the floor, as the cafeteria wasn’t competed. He remembers jump roping and long-jumping in the hallways since the gym wasn’t done.

“We didn’t have intramurals, and we’d go to the church west of the school where there was grass to play kickball, baseball and football,” he said. ‘We took our eighth grade class photo on the west side of the school on the sidewalks, as the fields were just mud.”

That was the 1994–95 school year, 25 years ago, which this year’s Elk Ridge students celebrated during their spirit week by playing music and wearing clothes of the times and writing haikus based on the politics and pop culture of the time, said Principal Curtis Jenson. Students also received some 25-year shirts and socks at assemblies, and the anniversary is to be highlighted in the school yearbook.

Although there have been upgrades to the school, most notably the security entrance and office relocating to the front of the building in 2016, four faculty members — Patricia Bronson, Craig Downs, Bryan Mineer and James Olsen — have called it home all 25 years.

“The building was only partially finished,” Mineer recalled. “There was no access to the main hall, gym and cafeteria. Lunch was in the hallways. It was hard to keep the halls clean, but we had gym class in the halls, so they learned to clean it up. Parent-teacher conference was in the hallways as well.”

Mineer taught the technology portion of TLC (technology, life choices and careers), which included sewing and cooking and Lab 2000, what was then an innovative technology and engineering curriculum course.

“We didn’t teach wood shop any longer, and metals was fading. TLC’s focus was technology, as more educators felt this was the direction the world was moving,” he said, adding he remembered spending hours after contract time assembling carts, configuring computers and preparing for students. “I remember many times working before the sun rose and then seeing the evening stars start to appear the same day before I left.”

Of course, the way in and out of the school was on a dirt road, as Bangerter Highway had yet to be completed by the middle school.

“There were open fields around us, and I remember seeing a herd of elk on school grounds,” he said.

Former Assistant Principal Ann White also remembers Bangerter Highway being “a pile of dirt,” and opening the 36-classroom school without a gym or cafeteria across from a field of willows and a stream.

“Our lunches were made by their staff at nearby South Jordan Middle and brought to the school,” she said. “We ate a lot of pizza, and kids sat in the circle on the floor with friends. In fact, when the cafeteria opened in November, they asked if they could continue sitting on the floor in there. Our assemblies were held by grade in the main hall, which we ended up calling assembly hall. Classrooms weren’t done, and the gym wasn’t done, so the kids played a lot of field hockey in the hall for PE (physical education), and we could hear the pucks in the classrooms go ping, ping, ping. When we first opened, the office wasn’t done, so we used a storage room as a temporary office. There wasn’t anything typical about that year.”

That includes moving out of classrooms in the spring to accommodate fourth through sixth grade students from Oquirrh Elementary, when their school was burnt down by an electrical fire.

“Our teachers had to dismantle and move classrooms in a weekend so they could have one portion of the building,” White said. “Everyone put in long hours, but the faculty and staff had such great attitudes.” 

White remembers realizing there wasn’t any real alternative to opening the school.

“Bingham was full, and South Jordan Middle was bursting at the seams,” she said. “We had close to 1,200 kids when we opened.”

Principal Fred Ash kept a journal of that first year of Elk Ridge and recalled it was May before school was supposed to open in the fall when stakeholders discussed their options, he said.

“South Jordan Middle School was willing to accommodate their schedule so one school would hold class there starting in the early morning until noon, and the other school would go noon until later evening, or we could figure out how to use our building without it being done,” he said. 

That started out his year, which took him from a dozen years of being Jordan High’s principal, to being challenged to opening a new school from hiring staff and faculty to naming hallways “like a little town.”

School started in late August, and about a week later, band and choir moved into their completed rooms. By late September, the school had elected student body officers, selected the wapiti over the raptor as the mascot and decided on maroon, cream and forest green as school colors.

“My being at Jordan as a Beetdigger may have had some influence in having the color choices for students to vote on,” he admitted.

October brought about parent-teacher conferences in the assembly and gym halls, and also, the first Halloween dance. The Spiffy Spectrum student newspaper published its first edition, which Ash still has. 

On Nov. 1, after two months of mostly pizza on the hall floors, students moved to the cafeteria to eat lunch, although meal preparation was still done at South Jordan Middle, he said.

“But the fun thing was in the lunch hall after lunch,” Ash said. “After the cafeteria finally opened [and] the kids had finished eating, they would go out into the halls again to visit, which the teachers didn't like. So, I had a line painted across the lunch hall floor about where the attendance and counselor offices doors opened into that hall, and no student was allowed to cross that line until the bell rang to end the lunch period.”

Ash enforced that rule by starting a competition with students there. Instead of just standing, he’d challenge students to see how many modified sit-ups, push-ups or 90-degree knee bends they could do — all in the name of good physical exercise and reward candy for the winners.

By Nov. 14, students moved into their science rooms, only to find the gas not functionable. Seven days later, there was a gas leak in the foods room.

In December, there was a concert in the auditorium, which was completed in late November. However, the sound and lighting weren’t working. 

In early January 1995, the gym and locker rooms were open to students, although the showers weren’t completed, and the library opened without bookshelves. The bookshelves were added by February, and the showers — just cold water — started to work in mid-February.

By March 6, the contractors’ trailers left the bus area, so drop-off and pick-up was moved next to the school. However, the next day, Oquirrh Elementary students moved into the school to use for the rest of the school year. Twenty-one days later, the first meal was prepared in the school’s cafeteria.

“I wrote down, ‘Hooray!’” Ash said.

Through it all, Ash recalled the bonding of his staff and faculty. In an Oct. 11, 1994, memo, he told his staff that although they were tired, they still had a sense of humor about them and they were family.

Many traditions came about, for many years, it included the faculty-student football, softball, volleyball and basketball games.

“We were a younger faculty at the time and played almost every Friday,” Mineer said. “And most of the times, the faculty would win.”

That first year started the annual faculty assembly, with teachers and staff members’ skits. Ash remembers being put in a wheelchair and wheeled across stage. Mineer recalled teachers dressed with fake long hair and lip syncing to ZZ Top. However, some showed their talent as serious musicians, he added.

“We all had a good sense of humor, and there were pranks at birthdays, filling administrators’ offices with confetti,” he said, adding he was one of the pranksters who did it to both Ash and current assistant principal Spencer Campbell. 

Mineer also has been known to rally another dozen faculty to move faculty cars in the parking lot.

“It’s a hard job, so that’s fun and a way to enjoy life,” he said. “It’s a great school and a good place to be.”

This anniversary year, however, came to an end as Gov. Gary Herbert put schools in a “soft closure” in response to COVID-19 and was empty for the March earthquake. Ironically, Ash said it matched the school’s rough beginning.

“It was a challenging time then, and a challenging time now, but it’s a good school and great students and faculty,” he said.

Current Principal Jenson agrees. “It’s a sweet spot, with a supportive community, amazing kids and great teachers,” he said.