Orem says goodbye to Hillcrest Elementary through open house, gala — including first principal who’s 97 years old

March 15, 2019

Hillcrest Elementary School is celebrating its final months with two community events created to help Orem mourn, look to the future and pay tribute to the 65-year-old school.

“I love the idea of that concluding note to the symphony being one of praise to the school,” said Zach Eager, who was the principal of Hillcrest Elementary School for seven years.

Hillcrest and the nearby Scera Park Elementary School will consolidate in the fall into the recently-named Centennial Elementary Schoo l, a new facility that is being built on the Scera Park Elementary School site.

The Orem community was able to walk through the halls of Hillcrest Elementary School, visit classrooms and flip through old yearbooks Thursday evening at an open house. The event is being followed with a special gal a Friday night at Orem High School that will include a video, a musical performance and recognition of past and present employees.

The events were designed to pay homage to Hillcrest Elementary School while preparing for the upcoming merger.

“We wanted to find a way to honor that legacy, to just bring people together to say goodbye to Hillcrest as a building and also kind of use it as a jumping-off point for bringing closure so we can jump off to the next step, which is the new elementary school,” said Cissy Rasmussen, who is on the planning committee for the event.

Rasmussen said it’s common for students’ parents — and even grandparents — to all have attended Hillcrest. Her husband is an alumnus, and her children attend the school.

The Alpine School District Board of Education voted in 201 7 to consolidate the schools after a contentious process where groups both for and against a merger flooded the board’s chambers for multiple meetings to voice their opinion on the upcoming vote.

It wasn’t long after the vote that people started stopping into the school asking to see it before it closes. School employees knew they wanted to host farewell events, and reserved Orem High School a year in advance for Friday’s gala.

The planning committee also gathered yearbooks for each of the school’s 65 years, interviewed past principals and started discovering more history about the school.

“It is incredible to see where the school was 65 years ago,” said Rikki Kotter, the lead secretary at Hillcrest Elementary School. “We have this picture and you see Hillcrest and there’s no University Mall, no University Avenue. There’s nothing around the school. It’s just farmland.”

That planning process brought them to 97-year-old Lyle Tregaskis, the first principal of Hillcrest Elementary School.

“It was the most amazing thing to meet this man, it was a privilege,” Eager said. “Here I was standing in front of the man who started it all, and here I was on the bookend of 65 years, to shake his hand and sit with him and hear and think, wow, all that has happened between you and me.”

Tregaskis is planned to be in attendance at the gala.

Eager said the open house and the gala were planned to complement each other, with the open house as a more casual event and the gala designed as what he explains as part Oscars, part variety show.

“We are trying to give this school a chance to showcase its rich history, mixing in some humor and some fun as well as a nod to the mourning and the loss that some have felt,” Eager said.

The auditorium of Orem High School is expected to be filled by the event, with extra chairs brought in and some people standing.

Eager, who was recently appointed as the principal of a new, yet-unnamed Lehi elementary school, said Hillcrest Elementary School blended together children from various socioeconomic and racial backgrounds into one school.

“Hillcrest has a way of unifying a community unlike any school I’ve seen to date,” he said.

Similar events are being planned for Scera Park Elementary School in May.

Leading up to the consolidation, students from the two schools have become pen pals, videos have been sent cheering the other school and a joint activity is planned for the summer.

The majority of the two schools’ employees will be moving to Centennial Elementary School, according to Shelley Schroeder, the school’s principal.

“It is a true merger in that form, truly merging students, truly merging communities and parents, truly merging community and staff,” she said.