When the San Juan High School library was destroyed by an arson fire on November 17, 2012, the news spread like — well, like wildfire.
Though it happened very early on a Saturday morning, most of the students knew about it before noon.
There was a general outpouring of rage and sorrow over the malicious destruction of both books and a room that held wonderful memories.
More than 20,000 books had been reduced to ashes, including irreplaceable historical collections.
As the school board president, Merry Shumway, said, “The whole town feels violated.”
On the same day as the fire, the Phoenix Project was established by sophomore Tarrick Tumeh.
Tarrick, his mother Cindy, and his cousins Kira and McKale Simpson, set up a Facebook page with news of the fire, asking for donations.
“Insurance will rebuild the brick and mortar,” the Phoenix Project Facebook page declared, “It will take the students and community to rebuild the school spirit.”
School librarian Jeanna Grover added updates in the form of pictures and posts to the site, including, “Together we have the opportunity to learn that getting knocked down is only an opportunity to band together, get back up and make a difference.”
The goal of the Phoenix Project was to raise a quarter of a million dollars to replace the ruined books.
That was a lofty goal. However, donations in the form of money and new books came in from many sources.
Donors included townspeople, former students, Utah Educational Library Media Association ($1,200), High Desert Uniserv ($1,000), Grand County High School ($700), Grand Education Association ($500), Barnes and Noble, Back of Beyond Books, Desert West Office Supply, Wells Fargo, the Navajo Tribe, Delta High School, Albion Middle School in Sandy, UT, and the San Juan Record.
The Kline Carroll family donated a comprehensive San Juan History Collection. The tragedy initiated two Eagle Scout projects: one by Ben Brown and one conducted at Bonneville High School, which brought in thousands of books.
Initially, Erin Hurst, at that time the San Juan High School student body president, reasoned that the devastation could initiate “a change for the better.”
This year’s student body president, Chase Chamberlain, bookends Erin’s comment with, “The library is the heart and the soul of the school and so it is amazing to see it now. They have done such an excellent remodel.”
Other students echo Chase’s comment. They all love the beautiful pine ceiling; the sound buffers that “look like clouds”, and the 30 touchscreen computers.
The library also has a big screen TV — with surround sound — used for training and meeting purposes. Jeanna often has book trailers (similar to movie previews) playing on it, as well.
Students generally agree that the new library is “more functional” and feels more like a library—a place to seriously study—though everyone misses the couches that made the old library a more comfortable place to “hang out”.
Jeanna confirmed this, saying that when school started, nearly every student who came into the library asked, “Where are the couches?” She is happy to report they will soon have some.
One of Jeanna’s favorite new features is the ventilation system or, as she puts it, “AIR! We now have an amazing heating and cooling system that works wonderfully well. Before, the entire library was cooled with only one swamp cooler on the roof, which was so loud we couldn’t always have it running.”
Jeanna remarked on other improvements as well, such as, “The students really get a kick out of the new wireless 10-key pad that they enter their student numbers into when they check out books.
“They also really like the automated blinds that go up and down with the push of a button.”
However, she notes that even though the students are tech savvy and the library has Kindles they can check out, students still prefer holding a book.
Liz Meyer gave insight on the wide variety of books that are available to students when she said, “I like the ‘cooking section’—it contains cookbooks, cooking instructions, and biographies of well- known chefs.”
However, the science section, according to Jeanna, needs improvement. “We have great teachers who are really utilizing it right now and we are finding that section to be lacking.”
Everyone involved with the library is very grateful to all of those who have helped.
Anyone who would like to donate funds so the science section can be built up may do so by sending a check to the San Juan School District Education Foundation, 200 N. Main, Blanding, UT, 84511.
Earmark the money for the San Juan High School Library.
The library also still has a wish list on Amazon, where contributors can choose which books they would like to donate and then easily pay with their Amazon account.
That link is http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/39I5L04VTVRAY .