Friends of Historic Spring City effort on old school has been ‘incredible’
If there’s one volunteer group and one nonprofit effort that merits the praise of everybody in Sanpete County, it’s the Friends of Historic Spring City and their effort, running nearly 40 years, to save the old Spring City School.
The work of about 25 people to save the ornate landmark has been, in the words of Alison Anderson, one of the current leaders, “incredible.”
Most significant, the Friends have succeeded! From a flea market in the early 2000s that raised $8,000 to what appears likely to be a $100,000 appropriation from the current Utah Legislature, the Friends have raised $1.8 million.
They are now completing restoration work and have scheduled a dedication during Spring City Heritage Day, which is always on Memorial Day.
Built in 1899, the Spring City School originally consisted of eight elementary classrooms on two floors. The architect was Richard Watkins, who also designed the Spring City LDS Ward Chapel, the Piute County Courthouse and the Peteetneet Academy in Payson.
In the 1950s, the school district ceased using it as a school. For a time, camper shells were manufactured in the building. In the late 1970s, the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers purchased it from the school district with the goal of saving it.
When Craig Paulsen, a restoration contractor who is still heading up construction work, walked through the building about the time the DUP acquired it, he observed that the roof was about to collapse.
The Friends of Historic Spring City hadn’t been organized at that point. But local people, including people who later joined the Friends, scraped together enough money to reshingle the roof and keep the water out.
“For the first 20 years of the project, we just barely kept the building enclosed and standing with what money we could raise,” Paulsen recalls.
In 2002, the Friends got one of the first serious infusions of cash when they got a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts under the Save America’s Treasures program.
To get the money, they had to match the grant. The organization came up with all kinds of creative ways to do that. They got local artists to donate paintings, which were sold on Heritage Day. They charged $5 to $10 for visitors to tour historic homes. Every fall, artists opened up their studios for tours, and visitors paid to poke their noses into the studios.
Meanwhile, Yvonne Whitmore, who had grown up in Spring City and now lives in New York State, pledged $100,000 to the effort. And the organization got six $10,000 gifts, most individual gifts from its own members and some from corporations.
The turning point came in 2012, when the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB) awarded a $323,000 grant and $323,000 loan to the city of Spring City for school restoration. The grant and loan came to $647,350 total.
There were two catches. First, in order to get the grant, the city had to take out the loan as a show of local commitment. Second, the city council would only accept the loan if it was paid off, not by the city but by the Friends organization.
At a public hearing, Lee Bennion, an artist and one of the pillars of the Friends, urged acceptance of the money. “We’ve scratched and clawed,” she said. “We’ve been doing this for 30 years.” Once the school project had $647,000 in its coffers, she predicted, “Big donors will say, ‘This is for real.’ ”
She was right. The city council accepted the CIB money. Subsequently, the Friends got a $100,000 grant from the George S. and Dolores Eccles Foundation. The group needs to match that grant, just as it did the Save-America’s-Treasures grant. But the group may be able to use some of the money it expects to receive from the Legislature for the match.
Lots of finishing touches need to be added before the dedication, which is a little more than two months away. We can’t wait for that event. We hope there will be an opportunity to give a standing ovation to people who made a commitment, never gave up and saved one of the most beautiful and historic structures in Sanpete County.