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Developer to tear down Foothills School, build new housing across from Downtown library

This 72-year-old warehouse at River and 8th streets, owned by Wilcomb LCC, would be demolished and replaced by a multistory building with three parking decks to serve the proposed new Boise library across River Street (which the car at right is on). The Foothills School of Arts and Sciences, the building’s principal tenant, hopes to move to another Downtown location.
This 72-year-old warehouse at River and 8th streets, owned by Wilcomb LCC, would be demolished and replaced by a multistory building with three parking decks to serve the proposed new Boise library across River Street (which the car at right is on). The Foothills School of Arts and Sciences, the building’s principal tenant, hopes to move to another Downtown location. dstaats@idahostatesman.com

Out with the old buildings, in with the new.

Boise’s plan to replace its aging Downtown library with a big new one in the same place has spurred a private school across River Street and the school’s landlord into making replacement plans of their own.

The private, nonprofit Foothills School of Arts and Sciences has rented a former warehouse building on the northeast corner of River and 8th streets for more than 20 years. Its landlord is Wilcomb LLC, one of the businesses owned by the Wilcomb family, which has been in the development and property management business in Boise since 1910.

City officials came to the Wilcombs and Foothills with a problem. The existing library, on the southeast corner of River and 8th, has little parking. The new library, if built as planned, would have even less. Might the Wilcombs redevelop their site with a new building and put some parking levels in it?

T.J. Wilcomb, a partner in Wilcomb LLC and its construction-business sister, Jordan Wilcomb Construction Inc., was interested. He had already been thinking of redeveloping.

“We’ve kind of always seen opportunity for [a] mixed-use [development] on 8th Street,” Wilcomb told the Idaho Statesman. “Seeing the library and what it’s going to be gets us excited about what that area can become.”

The warehouse building was built in 1946, according to Ada County.

“My great-grandfather and grandfather built the building, and we’ve owned it since,” Wilcomb said. “When business was slow in construction, they would build utilitarian buildings in what, in the 1940s and ‘50s, weren’t in the best parts of town. It used to be along railroad tracks. The back alley along the building is curved, because of a railroad spur. All the doors opened to a railroad track.”

The building’s early tenants included General Electric and Crown Zellerbach, a former paper company, he said. More recently, the building housed the former Trey McIntyre Project, a dance company; and the Friends of the Library, which formerly held used-book sales there. But the primary tenant since 1995 has been the Foothills School.

Library River Street entry plaza PRESS-BRIEFING-LIBCAMP_Page_07.jpg
A funnel-shaped outdoor plaza along River Street forms the entrance to the main building in Safdie Architects’ design for Boise’s new main library. Provided by city of Boise

The redevelopment plans came as no surprise to Nick Cofod, head of school. The school had been looking for a new site for the past couple of years, he said.

Cofod and Wilcomb discussed keeping the school in a new building on the same site. Recently, though, Foothills found another site. Cofod declined to say where because the deal is not yet done, except to say it is Downtown.

“We really value our Downtown location,” he said. “We use city parks as play spaces. We make use of the cultural institutions. We regularly visit different spots Downtown.”

The school plans to finish this school year in the current building.

Wilcomb said plans for the replacement building are still taking shape but tentatively include office and retail (including restaurant) space on the ground floor; parking on the second, third and fourth floors; and apartments or condominiums on the fifth and possibly a sixth floor. Some office space may adjoin second-floor parking.

The city would buy the parking floors. They would account for roughly $10 million of the new library’s $85 million cost, city officials said.

The Wilcomb family believes Jordan-Wilcomb Construction Inc., at 406 S. 6th St., is Idaho’s oldest continually operating construction business. Established in 1910, the company built St. Joseph School on Fort Street, the Egyptian Theatre, C.C. Anderson’s Golden Rule Department Store that ultimately became a Macy’s and is now home to Athlos Academies; Garfield Elementary School, North Junior High, St. Mary’s Catholic Church on State Street, the old Ada County Courthouse east of the Capitol, the Treasure Valley YMCA on State Street, and several buildings on the Boise State University campus.

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The old Ada County Courthouse, east of the Capitol, was built by Jordan-Wilcomb Construction in 1939 as a New Deal project. It now houses the University of Idaho’s Boise law school and the state law library. Katherine Jones Idaho Statesman

Recent construction includes buildings at a new YMCA camp at Horsethief Reservoir in Valley County and a new Idaho Youth Ranch campus in Middleton.

““We’re going to use this as a springboard to create a new building that will reinvigorate the neighborhood and be there for another 50 to 100 years,” Wilcomb said.

David Staats: 208-377-6417, @davidstaats
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