Draper Park School

John R. Park School (1912)
12441 South 900 East in Draper, Utah


JULY 2014

Photos courtesy of the Draper Historic Preservation Commission

Draper’s John R. Park School deserves rehabilitation, not demolition

The John R. Park School is the last remaining historic civic structure in Draper City. The building has been a landmark in Draper’s city center since its construction in 1912. The school has helped bring significance to Draper as it has grown from its roots as a small rural community. However, Draper City is planning to demolish the school that is supposed to represent the best of education in Utah. In recent events, the building has been slated for demolition in September if a viable plan is not presented to the Draper City Council by August 30. Utah Heritage Foundation feels very strongly that the John R. Park School is an important preservation issue for Draper City and its future. Demolishing the John R. Park School without fully considering all of the options that have been presented for the building is strongly discouraged.

Utah Heritage Foundation has been actively involved in discussions about the John R. Park School since 2000. We believe that there are things that can be done to save the building while moving the process along quickly.

History and Architecture:

The John R. Park School has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It not only holds significance for Draper City, but also holds significance at the statewide level for its association with John R. Park, a prominent educator in Utah and an early resident of Draper. Park was the first President of the University of Utah and the Park Building in President’s Circle at the University of Utah is also named after him. Park was very active in early Draper; his influences eventually led to the community’s reputation as “The Cradle of Education” in Utah. Since its construction, the Park School has represented the growth and evolution of Draper City.

The school was constructed in 1912 to accommodate the growing number of students in Draper at the time. The previous school that was replaced by the John R. Park School and curriculum designed by Park were what cultivated the fantastic academic reputation for Draper. The new school included eleven classrooms and a principal’s office. The 1912 building was designed by architect, Neils Liljenber, who designed many other civic buildings throughout Utah. Some of his projects that have not been demolished include, the Carnegie Library in Murray, Alpine Stake Tabernacle in American Fork and the Eagles Fraternal Building in Salt Lake City. Liljenber designed the John R. Park School in a manner that reflected the morals of Draper City at the time.

An addition in 1928 provided more room and facilities for the students and faculty including an auditorium, workshops, a domestic science section, a music room, stage, locker space, showers and restrooms. The firm Scott and Welch designed this addition. Other prominent projects by Scott and Welch include the Marsac School in Park City, Park City High School, Grand County Courthouse, and the Masonic Temple on South Temple in Salt Lake City.

Draperites put extreme value in education. There was a 1938 mural by artist Paul Smith in the main first floor that was part of a Works Progress Administration project. The mural depicted the history of education in Draper City. The mural has since been removed and is on display in another school in Draper City. The significance of the mural has been recognized, but what has been forgotten is its inspiration: the influences that John R. Park had, and still has, on the community of Draper.

John R. Park School Auditorium

In 1954 a final addition was made to the school. This addition had thirteen classrooms equipped with modern visual aids, teachers, work-rooms, a faculty room, a sick room, auditorium, music room, library, and an up-to-date cafeteria and a modern gas heating plant.

The two-story yellow brick school building was designed in a style that was poplar for civic buildings in the early twentieth century. The Classical Revival style of the 1912 northwest wing of the building was carried into the 1928 addition that included the southeast rear addition and south end of the west elevation. In 1954, the large auditorium and northeast rear classroom wing was added which created the “U”-shaped plan that you see today. The inscription on the north bay on the west façade reads “Park Grade School” and the inscription on the south bay reads “Draper Jr. High School.”

Follow the Advice of Past Studies

Many studies have been done on the John R. Park School and from what we gather it is completely possible to make structural and cosmetic upgrades in a financially responsible way without Draper City investment. Previous reports have outlined potential reuse options, such as senior housing, affordable housing, a community center and a school. Most of these uses would not require use of the entire property, which could result in some of the vacant land being allocated to Draper City for community uses. Reusing the building would provide numerous additional benefits for the community at-large. Other successful projects can be used as examples of compatible development, including:

  • Maeser School Apartments (Historic Maeser School), Provo
  • St. George Performing Arts Center (Historic Woodward School), St. George
  • McGillis School (Historic Douglas School), Salt Lake City
  • Moab City Hall (Historic Moab Elementary School), Moab
  • Park City Library and Community Center (Historic Park City High School), Park City
  • Park City Municipal Corporation City Hall (Historic Marsac School), Park City

The Park School has reached a point where rehabilitation is necessary for future use; however, there are plenty of examples of other civic buildings throughout Utah that have made this transition successfully and we strongly believe it's possible for the Park School.

2. Issue a Request for Proposals (RFP)

We feel strongly that an official Request for Proposals (RFP) should be issued by Draper City. Although past RFPs have not produced a proposal amenable to the city leaders, not issuing an RFP completely alienates future investors and developers by not publicly noticing the property’s availability.

We believe that the study currently being conducted by CRSA will reflect the previous reports that have been published. We would like to request that Allen Roberts from CRSA be given the opportunity to present his findings at a Draper City Council meeting. His report will outline potential uses for the building, a current conditions assessment, costs and an outline of similar projects that have been successful. His findings are valuable to the future of the John R. Park School as this report should influence the decision making process. Providing sufficient time for the public to digest the information published in the report and issuing of an official Request for Proposals would result in proper public process and interested investors would be accurately informed of the possibilities of reusing and rehabilitation the John R. Park School.

3. Consider that Economic Impact Studies Show Financial Benefits of Historic Preservation

Utah Heritage Foundation conducted an Economic Impact Study that analyzed the financial benefits of historic preservation in Utah. Some of the important findings are Historic Preservation…

  • Pays living salaries and wages as a result of projects using Federal or State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits.
  • Incentivizes private investment in historic buildings using Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits.
  • Keeps money in Utah rather than sending money to Washington, D.C.
  • Generates additional statewide annual property tax revenues from investment in historic preservation projects.

Rehabilitation has also been proven to be more cost effective than demolishing an existing structure. In almost every example of successful, sustained downtown revitalization in Utah, the rehabilitation and reuse of historic buildings has been a key component. We have attached a copy of the Summary Report for the completed Economic Impact Study for more information on the financial benefits of historic preservation in Utah.

4. Regard Rehabilitation as Energy Efficient

According to the findings in our Economic Impact Study, buildings constructed before 1920 consume the same amount of energy per square foot as buildings constructed after 2000. Though energy-sensitive new construction has gained in popularity in recent decades, older commercial buildings still have inherent advantages that allow them to perform comparably. Rehabilitating existing historic buildings decreases the materials that are produced, transported and disposed of compared to demolishing and constructing a new structure. And there are hundreds of examples nationwide of historic structures that have become LEED certified after rehabilitation.

Rehabilitating the Park School can be done, but an understanding and openness to compatible reuse must be applied. Utah Heritage Foundation strongly urges the Draper City Council to consider issuing an official Request for Proposals for the John R. Park School and follow the recommendations above. Utah Heritage Foundation also strongly suggests that Allen Roberts of CRSA be given the opportunity to present his findings at a Draper City Council meeting. The Park School can be safe, aesthetically pleasing and economically beneficial to the community and we think that that can be done through rehabilitation.

How to Get Involved:

Utah Heritage Foundation strongly encourages the public to get involved to save the Park School by voicing your opinions on Utah Heritage Foundation’s social media and at Draper City Council meetings or email your message to save the Park School to the following individuals:

  • Mayor Troy K.Walker:
  • Council Member Bill Colbert:
  • Council Member William Rappleye:
  • Council Member Jeff Stenquist:
  • Council Member Alan Summerhays:
  • Council Member Marsha Vawdrey:

Visit our website, www.utahheritagefoundation.org, for more information on these opportunities to be involved in the preservation of a Draper icon that deserves to be incorporated into the future of Draper’s town center.

Check out these other resources to help save the Draper Park School!