Through the years, Boise’s historic North End has earned its way onto all kinds of “cool neighborhood” lists compiled by Sunset Magazine, the American Planning Association and others. Soon, an entire block in that desirable neighborhood bordered by 24th, Bella, Hazel and 25th streets will go on the market.
The Salvation Army owns the property. It built its red brick “lying in,” or maternity hospital, for unwed mothers on the site in 1921. In the mid-1960s, the hospital became a school for pregnant and parenting teens that’s run as a partnership between the faith-based nonprofit and the Boise School District. The site is also home to the Salvation Army’s local offices.
The school, formally known as the Marian Pritchett School at the Salvation Army Booth Memorial Campus, is in the midst of a major capital campaign — its first in 50 years — to build a new West Campus near Emerald Street and Maple Grove Road. The sale of the 24th Street-area property will help pay for the new campus.
With close to 50 students, the current school is at capacity.
“Our highest need is replacing the school. It’s crumbling around us,” said Hillary Betz, Salvation Army director of development.
The complex includes the original red brick hospital building built in 1921 and apartments built in 1968 that are now used as offices. In recent years, the buildings have suffered roof leaks, boiler repairs and substandard heating and cooling. The recent heavy snowfall caused a ceiling collapse in one classroom.
The Salvation Army has already raised $5 million toward the $11 million it needs to build the West Campus. Part of the money raised came from the sale in 2015 of an administration building at 19th and Bannock streets. As soon as the Salvation Army raises $6.2 million, the Marian Pritchett site will be listed, Betz said.
She estimates that combined the sales of the 19th Street and 24th Street sites will bring in around $2.5 million. The West Campus will be built on land the Salvation Army was able to buy thanks to a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.
“We need to finish fundraising as soon as possible,” said Betz. “We will not break ground until money has been given or pledged.”
The “dream,” said Betz, is to open the new school for the 2018 school year.
“But we need to do that with no debt,” she said. “We want to be prudent.”
The impending property sale and move will mean a new chapter for the organization and the school. But the change is concerning for North End neighbors who want to make sure the site’s new use — whatever that may be — is compatible with the character of the old neighborhood.
A whole city block in a historic neighborhood = a rare opportunity
The Marian Pritchett site sits in the North End Historic District. The property is zoned residential. Its current use as a school is grandfathered. Any development plan following a purchase would go before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission for review. The original brick building, the oldest structure on the site, is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places because of its age but is not currently on that list. Inclusion is also not a protection against demolition.
The North End Neighborhood Association (NENA) board is working on a formal position regarding the site but “overwhelmingly” favors a plan that preserves the 1921 brick building, along with enough of its surrounding property to retain the block’s park-like feel, said board member Mark Baltes. Baltes acknowledges that no engineering study has been done yet to assess the structural integrity of the old building.
Stephen Miller is the neighborhood association’s historic preservation chair.
“I don’t know if there’s any other property like this in the North End,” Miller said.
“We recognize that the Salvation Army is in the midst of a fundraising campaign and this sale figures prominently. But we also hope they will be willing to think about the rarity of this opportunity and work with neighbors and the city in a way that will help the community,” said Miller.
Developers, he added, have already been in touch with the NENA board, anticipating the sale in hopes of winning the association’s approval.
Ideas include preserving the 1921 brick building and converting it to high-end apartments and using the rest of the site as a place to move historic houses that are endangered or slated for demolition (similar to the houses recently moved from Boise’s former Central Addition neighborhood on the northern edge of Julia Davis Park). Miller said he’s heard of another developer interested in building as many as 10 houses on the site.
For the Salvation Army’s part, its leaders say they recognize the historic significance of the site.
“I love history,” said Maj. Robert Lloyd, Valley coordinator, corps officer and pastor. He knows former Salvation Army officials, some in their 90s, who worked with the program long ago and are heartened, not only that the program still exists for young parents, but that it’s expanding. The organization has met with city officials to create a bid package for potential buyers, Lloyd said, “to ensure that any future land use is compatible with the neighborhood.”
He’s confident, he said, that the city’s zoning ordinance will “guide any land use and historical preservation.”
But ultimately, Lloyd admitted, the future of the site is up to the buyer. “Once it’s sold, it’s no longer in our hands.”
A boon for West Boise?
The Boise Independent School District’s open enrollment policy means that students from across the Treasure Valley and beyond attend the Marian Pritchett School. The student body includes girls and boys from Boise, the West Ada School District, even students from other states and other Idaho cities who have heard about the program for pregnant and parenting teens and come to town to live with relatives or friends so they can attend. Many current students live in the West Campus ZIP code.
Salvation Army leaders also say the West Campus will be an asset for people of all ages in and outside the school community. Unlike the 24th Street site that only operates during the school year, the new complex will include a year-round community center open to the neighborhood.
The Boise city staff report that recommended approval of the West Campus project noted the presence of compatible institutions, including Horizon Elementary School, a Title 1 school, City Hall West and Central District Health. The West Campus is also on a bus route. The staff report said that the programs at the new facility are “important social services to the city of Boise” encouraging private public partnerships between the city and groups that run programs for at-risk residents.
Eventually, the Salvation Army hopes to raise an additional $4 million to fully develop the entire West Campus site, adding athletic fields and other community amenities. The Salvation Army program directors want the West Campus to become a year-round “community hub,” said Betz.
More on the history of the Salvation Army and Marian Pritchett School
The first officers of the Salvation Army arrived in Boise in 1887, just 14 years after pioneers platted the city’s first 10 blocks.
A Boise attorney named Earl C. Arnold donated land to the Salvation Army sometime before 1921 on the condition that the property, or proceeds from the property, be “used by the Salvation Army for its work in Boise,” according to the Idaho Statesman. The location of that piece of land is unknown. What is known is that the Salvation Army “flipped” that site and used the money to buy the full city block bordered by North 24th, West Bella, North 25th and West Hazel streets.
The Salvation Army built its maternity hospital for unwed mothers on the site in 1921. In 1964, the Boise School District opened an accredited school there offering grades seven through 12, as it does today. By the 1970s, the availability of birth control and the decreasing stigma of unmarried pregnancies started to make homes and hospitals like the Salvation Army’s obsolete. Most closed, or, like Boise’s, evolved.
Giraffe Laugh partners with the Salvation Army to provide on-site child care for the infants and toddlers of mothers and an increasing number of fathers attending the school. In 2002, the complex was renamed for Marian Pritchett, a beloved teacher at the school for three decades who died that year.