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West Valley City Journal

Federal disaster funds to help pay for West Lake STEM Junior High School rebuild

Jul 07, 2023 12:06PM ● By Darrell Kirby

The reconstruction of West Lake STEM Junior High School in West Valley City continues toward a scheduled completion by the start of school in August 2024. (Darrell Kirby/City Journals)

The replacement of West Lake STEM Junior High School in West Valley City has gotten a financial boost thanks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

FEMA has awarded nearly $17.1 million dollars to the Granite School District which will go toward the cost of rebuilding the school at 3400 S. 3450 West. 

The funds were sent to the Utah Division of Emergency Management and passed on to the school district as part of federal disaster aid following the March 2020 Magna earthquake. 

The 5.7 quake caused significant damage to West Lake STEM Junior High, which opened in 1964. The decision was made to demolish and rebuild the aging campus rather than repair and renovate it. Had the school been repaired instead of being rebuilt, the FEMA funds would have paid for the fixes, but instead will help finance the reconstruction which got underway in March 2022. 

“There was a lot work between the school (district), their insurance company, FEMA, and the Division of Emergency Management over the last several years to identify what was damaged, what’s the best way to fix it, what’s the best funding options,” said Janna Wilkinson, resilience bureau chief at the Division of Emergency Management. 

“They did identify all the damages and made the decision that the school wasn’t repairable,” she added. 

“It’s got some great upgrades,” said Kathy Holder, state hazard mitigation officer, of the coming West Lake version 2.0. They include more open areas for students to gather in case of an emergency—like an earthquake. 

Besides the FEMA money, the Granite School District’s insurance will cover about $37 million of the total price tag of $55 million to put up a new version of West Lake. “FEMA doesn’t replace insurance. It fills in the gaps,” Wilkinson said.

The Division of Emergency Management in the Utah Department of Public Safety is FEMA’s designated recipient agency for the state. Disaster funds awarded to Utah under a presidential declaration are channeled through the division to state and local entities to provide assistance following natural and other types of disasters.

As of June, the new West Lake was about half way toward completion. It is scheduled to be done in time for the start of the school year in August 2024. 

West Lake is in temporary quarters at Westbrook Elementary School in Taylorsville. That facility will close permanently after West Lake departs due to an earlier decision by the school board to shutter it because of declining enrollment. λ