“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” Margaret J. Wheatley
Right now, it’s still just a wild field with two signs on opposite ends advertising a vision of what this land will become. The goal: to build a second high school alongside a technical college that will not only create exciting new learning and employment opportunities, but also accommodate the growing population of our beautiful valley. When ground was broken at the site on May 23 of this year, those involved in the project at every level—from builders to families to the board of education— expressed their desire for the new high school and technical college to be celebrated; something the community can unite over. From what I’ve witnessed, the project is already succeeding in that goal.
Change is always hard but is eased by sound planning and cooperative efforts. The population most affected by the change is, of course, the students. Children who will be entering Grade 6 in the coming 2023-2024 school year can expect to be the first freshmen class, and subsequently first graduates, of the new high school. This comes as welcome news to these younger students, as the current students at Wasatch High School are getting lost in the large class sizes. Wasatch High School presently accommodates almost 2,600 students in grades 9-12. According to the School District website, that number is expected to swell to roughly 3,231 students by the fall of 2026, when the new school is projected to open its doors.
Dividing the student population of the current high school in two will be an ongoing process, as even after the new school is completed, some students may prefer to stay and graduate from Wasatch High School. That school pride and loyalty is something the District hopes to foster. Each high school will have their own colors, mascot, and school culture in order to “help the students and staff build pride and an affinity for their individual school,” according to Kirsta Albert, the Public Information Officer at the Wasatch County School District.
Current plans for the nearly $170 million project have already been drawn up, and 3-D renderings drafted, all of which can be found on the Wasatch County School District’s website. The designs have literally taken shape for a group of students at the Wasatch Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) program here in Heber. Under the direction of Gary Roberts, the engineering students are building scale models of the approved plans for the Mountainland Technical College and High School that will soon occupy the campus.
Mr. Roberts, who’s been teaching for nearly 30 years, was kind enough to show me around their creative classrooms and give me a unique glance into the students’ process back in April. When asked about his involvement, Roberts shakes his head and minimizes his role, telling me instead how “impressed” he is with these students. He jokes that people think a teacher is usually considered “the master of his domain,” but in this setting, he’s “more of an observer”. We discuss the students’ vision and what they believe will be the wonderful aspects of the new school site—the learning opportunities and jobs it will bring to this valley—as well as some of the downsides. Strains on building resources, as well as an increase in the recent housing shortage are thing the students discuss as part of their planning.
As with any large-scale project of this nature, there are many hundreds of hands working on it at any given time. More hands mean more opinions, which also means more debate and back-and-forth about design, infrastructure, etc. The CAPS students are taking it all in stride and are primarily focused on their model; basing it off the most complete information they can get their hands on. The architects send them design renderings as they complete them, and the students adjust the model, or plug the blueprint specifications into a 3D-printer for a more precise physical copy of each part of the buildings.
With the recent surge of demand on building materials and labor, the deadline for the school’s estimated finish time is at least three years out. Luckily, the demand on craft and modeling supplies isn’t as high. What is now glue, mat board, and foam will soon be concrete, brick, and mortar. Even on a tiny scale, where one inch equals 45 feet, the campus is impressive. The sports complex alone is a feat of design. Two new football fields, baseball and softball diamonds, and soccer fields mirror each other in both turf and grass. A separate sports facility, detached from the high school, will house wrestling, basketball, and volleyball courts, as well as provide space for other recreational activities.
The landscaping and design of the sport fields and facilities has fallen under the direction of Berg Landscape Architects, located in Midway. It is being directed by Carl Berg, a Heber City native, in partnership with Matthew Zierenberg, an agriculture teacher at Wasatch High whose students have been working on site to learn about preserving the creek bed and native flora. Both Berg and Ziereneberg have emphasized their desire to leave as much of the natural landscape as possible, and it’s clearly visible on the model and renderings.
A seamless transition from virgin land to educational campus is an admirable goal, and the district aims to make the transition to a new school equally seamless for both students and teachers. That includes having familiar faces at both high schools. The district plans to hire a combination of current teachers from Wasatch High, along with a number of additional teachers, to staff the new high school. Mountainland Technical College will hire their own qualified staff. The exact number of new hires will greatly depend on how many students opt to stay at Wasatch High School through graduation.
New jobs are wonderful for the economic growth of our valley, but also present a concern over where the new hires will live. Many will continue to commute, but others are hoping to buy homes in Heber Valley. When asked about current plans, Kirsta Albert said the School District is “actively working on solutions to help our teachers live and work in our community.” These programs include the “Grow Your Own” Teacher and School Counselor Pipeline, which helps identify local individuals who already work for the district in some capacity and can help them become certified as teachers or school counselors.
Housing has always been a part of the Wasatch CAPS program, and a separate group from those building the model are working in partnership with their peers taking the construction class at Wasatch High. The construction class offers students real world, hands-on building experience, and the CAPS students render the home’s blueprint designs. The construction class students build a house every year in the Heber Valley, and the CAPS students design it.
This type of ongoing inter-disciplinary, and inter-school, cooperation is what affords the students in our valley such a wonderful education. Having adult role models to mentor them on real-world projects, and watching the adults cooperate efficiently is a priceless experience. It fosters respect and healthy competition. It is indeed a wonderful thing to have an additional high school (as well as a technical college) that students from both high schools will have the opportunity to attend. Adult students in our community will also be able to further their own professional and educational goals through the Mountainland Technical College. These students will not only be prepared for higher education and professions, they will be prepared for life.
For further information on the new campus, refer to the School District’s website. Information on the Wasatch CAPS program can be found on their website. Interested in participating in the CAPS program? You’ll need to take Mr. Robert’s engineering class at Wasatch High as a prerequisite.