Youth’s letter prompts possible Columbus Center name changeOct 28, 2020 04:44PM ● By Bill Hardesty
South Salt Lake City is starting an initiative to rename the Columbus Center. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)
By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]
In its 103-year history, the Columbus Center, 2530 S. 500 East, has been many things.
It was open in 1917 as a primary school. It closed in 1968. Shortly after, it was remodeled to house a training center for adults with learning disabilities and was used for this purpose for about 20 years. In the 1980s, it was decided it was too costly to bring the building up to earthquake and safety codes, in addition to removing asbestos. The building was used as a warehouse until 1995.
South Salt Lake bought the building and, in 1997, the architecture firm Cooper Roberts was hired to do a complete renovation of the building. It took four years and $5 million for a new beginning on April 22, 2002 with the opening of the Columbus branch of the Salt Lake County Library Services.
At the Oct. 14 City Council meeting, Mayor Cherie Wood announced another change. SSL is beginning an initiative to change the name of the center.
As questions of inequality were heating up earlier this year, Jevahjire France wrote a letter to the City Council asking them to consider a name change.
France moved to America from Haiti in 2016 when he was 13 years old. France graduated from Cottonwood High School and is a former member of the award-winning Cottonwood High School Robotics team. France became involved in Promise South Salt Lake in the Fall of 2016. He currently is a member of the Youth City Council.
In his letter, he wrote, “As a young immigrant just like many in South Salt Lake, I have always wondered if the members of the Council of this City ever question how a young immigrant or refugee feels knowing that he is frequenting a library named after an oppressor not too different from the one(s) they or their parents were fleeing from back home?”
“Jevahjire’s message resonates with me as we recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I agree with many in our community and believe it is time to rethink the name of this building and how it serves our entire community,” Wood said.
In 1990, South Dakota officially renamed Columbus Day, the second Monday of October, as Native American Day. Later in 1992, Berkeley, California became the first city to make the change renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The idea has caught on. Currently, 13 states do not celebrate Columbus Day. Numerous cities have also changed the name. Because it is a federal holiday, the name, Columbus Day, remains.
Promise SSL, the city’s Equity Council, and the Youth City Council are coordinating their efforts to make this change. All involved in the initiative are encouraging resident’s participation by contacting the two Youth City Council coordinators Edward Lopez ([email protected]) or Kayla Mayers ([email protected]).
“This is civic engagement at its best. I am encouraged to see youth, City Council members, staff, and residents engage in dialogue. We all want our community to feel like home and this conversation is a step to creating that,” Wood said.
The Columbus Center contains many groups and activities.
There is the Columbus Senior Center operated by the Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services.
There is the Columbus Library, which will close when the Granite Library branch is completed in the coming year.
The South Salt Lake Recreation Department offices are housed at the Columbus Center. In pre-pandemic times, the department provided an open gym and taught classes.
The Best Buy Teen Tech center was open in 2019 at the Columbus Center. This area provides a tech-focused, after-school experience along with homework help during the pandemic.
The Hser Ner Moo Promise SSL program operates at the Columbus Center. The center is named after a young refugee girl from Burma who had settled in SSL. The center offers help with reading, math, science and ESL. There are also fun clubs and sports activities for students K-12.
The Columbus Center is available for rent. Residents can rent the auditorium, the gym for both sports or events, the outside patio and various meeting rooms, however, due to COVID precautions this is currently not possible.