Paradise Lost: A Brief History of The Atrium


Carter Norton

Timpview High School has a hole. A massive one actually. It’s called The Atrium. Most of the student body walks by it everyday, giving little thought to the overgrown and under-cared for patch of forest nestled between the library and the academic hallway.

There isn’t much reason to care anyways. Its doors have been closed for years, far longer than any current students have been enrolled. It’s not just students either, most teachers couldn’t tell you when or why it was shut down. In fact even Vice Principal Bingham, the facility manager, isn’t certain.

The closure of the atrium has almost become a fact of the school: Everyone knows the Thunderdome bathrooms are the cleanest, the metal’s room water-fountains taste the best, and the atrium is not to be entered. But it wasn’t always that way.

Let’s rewind a few years.

It was 1995. Vern W. Bangerter was a physics teacher, alongside Mr. Mcilmoil. Bangerter was a passionate teacher with a knack for acquiring grants and passion for large projects. His started with the Exploratorium, the collection of physics machinery, rock collections, and biological specimens currently located between Mcilmoil and Denali’s classrooms.

Once the Exploratorium was complete, Bangerter and Mac turned their focus to the empty courtyard outside the library.

“It was just open with nothing in it, and we [Mr. Mcilmoil and Mr. Bangerter] wanted to do something with it, so we applied for a grant” said Mcilmoil.

Bangerter laid out his plan: a fully landscaped atrium. There would be several terraces, each filled with native Utah trees, shrubs, and flowers, perfect for the biology classes to take nature walks. There would also be two fountain-fed streams that flowed into large ponds, allowing the physics classes to conduct experiments on flow rate and liquid density.

Original diagram of the plants in the atrium

Of course, it would also be beautiful, a forested patch of peace and quiet that students could enjoy between classes and during lunch.

It wasn’t long before the money was secured, a professional landscaping architect from Thanksgiving Point was hired, and Bangerter got to work. Mostly alone, with occasional help from Mcilmoil, the atrium become a labor of love for Bangerter.

“Moved most of the dirt by hand in a wheelbarrow, welded the rebar himself, he was an old school worker” said Mcilmoil.

Bangerter worked for three years, staying after school and spending entire summers in the space. The courtyard was dug out and leveled, new concrete was poured, hundreds of plants were set in, and two fully functioning fountains were installed to run the two streams.

Finally, the project was finished, and The Atrium opened its doors. It was unlike anything another high school in Utah had seen. A micro-ecosystem, surrounded on all sides by classrooms. Students could walk in an actual forest between classes, watching trout and turtles swim side by side under the shade of newly planted Dogwood and Aspen trees.

Unfortunately, The Atrium was not free of problems, and within a few years began to suffer from vandalism.

“One time students got onto the roof and threw a dead deer in, but the worst time was when students got onto the roof and through a bottle of dish soap into the pond, which then killed all the trout from the hatchery.” said Mcilmoil.

But the final nail in The Atrium’s coffin came with the ponds. A leak had sprung in the lower pond, not a uncommon problem, so Mcilmoil simply shut off the water and plugged the leak. Replacing the concrete acrylic seal was a bit of a headache, but he figured all was well.

That’s when part of the school building sank.

Engineers were called, a portion of the basement was dug out, and concrete pylons were poured beneath the school.

“Then they said we were not allowed to have any kind of water in the atrium again. That included sprinklers. That’s when we basically killed everything” said Mcilmoil.

Eventually, The Atrium was closed. The doors were locked, the carefully managed gardens became overgrown, the pumps for the fountains were removed, and the space was mostly forgotten for the next decade.

“Occasionally we’ll have groups that go out and put the flowers in and things like that but there’s never been direction as to what anyone wants.” said Mcilmoil.

Until now. Recently, Vice Principal Bingham said all the administration would need to re-open The Atrium would be a serious cleaning and occasionally upkeep thereafter, and Student Government has decided to take it on for their annual Service Day.

So come out, get your hands dirty, and help revive a peace of Timpview history: Saturday, May 5, from 10am to noon.