After 40 years, historic Spring City school nearly restored, dedication set
SPRING CITY—Cynthia Allred DeGrey had something to say.
Five years ago, the lifelong Spring City resident listened as the city council considered a funding proposal involving the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB) and Friends of Historic Spring City, a private nonprofit that had been operating in the community for 30 years.
At stake was a $327,000 CIB grant that would help with an ongoing restoration project at the historic school, a project that started in 1979. In order to get the grant, the city had to accept a matching loan that Friends of Historic Spring City had committed to paying off.
The city’s decision to accept or reject the loan hinged on the integrity of the Friends. If they could fulfill their promise, the loan was a go. If not, the city would reject the loan and with it, the matching grant.
DeGrey considered the situation carefully. And then she rose to say what she had to say.
“This is an opportunity that we may not ever get again if we turn this down,” she remembers saying. “The Friends have proven themselves to be very invested in getting this project finished.”
Something shifted in the room. A group of residents, some resistant to the project, some just concerned that the city would have to foot the bill, seemed to have their fears quelled. When Eldon Barnes, then the mayor, asked, “Is there anyone here who’s against it?,” the room fell silent.
The city council voted unanimously to accept the loan.
Looking back, DeGrey feels confident the council made the right decision.
“This was a no-brainer for our city,” she said. “We would have just been foolish not to accept that money.”
That meeting, and especially DeGrey’s endorsement of the Friends of Historic Spring City, marked a turning point for the school. The result today is that completion of a $1.8 million project that has run for nearly 40 years is in sight. And a dedication has been scheduled for later this year.
“The fact that a credible, reliable community servant, a native of Spring City, had gone to bat for this project really, in my mind, turned it around,” Alison Anderson, president of the Friends organization, said in an interview last week.
Funds began pouring in. There were grants from the Eccles Foundation, the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area and, for a second time, the CIB. Yvonne Schofield Whitmore, a former resident, donated $100,000.
Substantial donations came from the Sam and Diane Stewart Foundation, various members of the Friends, and others with a stake in preserving historic buildings.
Much of the money came from regular townspeople—$100, $50 even $10 at a time. And residents from neighboring communities chipped in, too.
Under Anderson’s direction, the Friends continued to spearhead Heritage Day each May, which has raised $15,000-$20,000 annually for the school fund. (Heritage Day has been ongoing since 1981.)
Just this year, Anderson petitioned the Utah Legislature for $50,000 as one of the final pieces of funding to finish the restoration.
While nothing is certain until the total state budget is passed on the last day of the session, the funding has been approved by an appropriations subcommittee and is scheduled for consideration in the Executive Appropriations Committee late this week or early next.
“Things really took off when she (Anderson) came to town,” Craig Paulsen, the contractor overseeing the restoration project, said.
If Anderson was, as DeGrey described her, the “Energizer Bunny” that kept the project going, Paulsen was the man who kept the school from falling down.
He began work on the school shortly after the local Daughters of Utah Pioneers (DUP) chapter, in a last ditch effort to save the school, purchased the building from the North Sanpete School District for $10 in 1979.
“[That first year] we mainly just had to get a [new] roof on it because the roof was leaking and doing some serious damage to the interior of the building,” he said. “The second priority was then trying to figure out how to keep the roof from collapsing, because the roof was starting to fail structurally.”
Paulsen, with the support of the Friends, did what he could over the next two decades to keep the building from deteriorating further.
“For those first 20 years of the project, we just barely even kept the building enclosed and standing with what money we could raise,” he said.
It wasn’t until 15 years ago that structural upgrades began to occur, including the seismic upgrading of walls, a new floor framing system in the third floor, steel framing in the chimneys, and reframing of the entire roof.
When Anderson moved to town just a few years later, the school appeared to be on the cusp of something big. With Ron Henriksen and later Gary Parnell overseeing fundraising efforts, the restoration project picked up momentum.
In short order, Anderson, with her passion for historic preservation, was ready to lead the effort.
“I can’t take credit because I haven’t been here 35 years,” she said. “But the thing I’ve been able to bring to this project is I’m a full-time resident of Spring City. Contributing to the town in several ways has helped me become friends with a wider group of residents and enlist their help.”
Many of the Friends own second homes in Spring City and are not permanent fixtures in the community. But all of them share an interest in and love for the school that Anderson calls “incredible.”
“Here’s this group of a couple of dozen couples, and they’re the ones that have really driven the fundraising efforts over the years,” she said. “We have worked just tirelessly. Many of these people were in their 30s and 40s when this whole project started, and now they’re in their 60s and 70s.”
This May, the city will dedicate the finished school building in time for Heritage Day and Memorial Day.
“I’m actually going to start sleeping at night,” Anderson laughed.
Until then, she and the Friends are working at a feverish pace to make sure things are in place for the dedication.
In recent months, work has shifted from installing insulation and drywall to finishing touches like painting and putting in bathroom stalls.
On Monday, Anderson was waiting to hear from a potential benefactor before ordering new light fixtures. Paulsen and his crew were meeting to discuss furnishings for the building.
“[It’s] basically a new building within an old shell,” he said. “There’s been all kinds of structural work that is now hidden under all these finishes.”
Paulsen says the restored school will be a source of pride for the community. He’s overseen a number of other restoration projects in Sanpete County, including the Ephraim Co-op and Ephraim Public Library.
“That was another one everyone would drive by and say, ‘Just tear the damn thing down,’” he said. “But as soon as it got done, all of the complaints went away and everyone thought it was wonderful.”
DeGrey, who attended school in the building as a child, is thrilled to see it preserved.
“It’s such a beautiful building,” she said. “Every time I walk in I’m just flooded with so many wonderful memories.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing is that the Friends have been able to finance the project without any financial support from the city.
“The cost to the individual residents of this city is absolutely zero,” DeGrey said. “And that’s a really amazing thing for a project of this dollar amount.”
When it is dedicated in May, the old school will house city offices, city council chambers, the court and a DUP museum on the ground floor.
The second floor will be a grand ballroom, rentable for private events like weddings, family reunions and business meetings. There will also be office and business space available for rent.
The third floor, formerly an attic, will house studios for artists and dancers.
Anderson believes the school will be a catalyst for economic development in Spring City.
“If you build it, they will come,” she said, listing caterers, bed-and-breakfast inns and bakeries as some of the businesses that could be lured by the building as it begins functioning as an events center.
For Paulsen, the nearly-completed project represents a labor of love. They’ve been careful to preserve the “interesting, intricate brickwork,” probably the hallmark of the building.
“That was done when brick masons were real artists,” he said. “People were much more concerned about the aesthetics of their buildings on the outside instead of just thinking about how they function on the inside.”
Nearly 40 years in, the school is finally just about ready for its day in the sun, a day Anderson is expecting to be magical.
“We’ll invite everybody in town to come to that,” she said. “Plus the Eccles Foundation, Yvonne (Whitmore) and her whole family will be there, representatives from the CIB and Legislature, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the county commissioners, neighboring mayors—that will be a very big weekend for us.”