Boise & Garden City

New athletic fields for Boise, but they mean a historic building has to go

Boise School District building at 320 W. Fort St. in Downtown Boise.
Boise School District building at 320 W. Fort St. in Downtown Boise. Preservation Idaho

The Boise School District plans to demolish a former military building it owns at 320 W. Fort St. to make way for athletic fields for Boise High School.

The building, acquired by the district in 1961, is now uninhabited and used for storage. Its 10-acre grounds house facilities and operations offices. Those will relocate to district-owned land near Gowen Field, possibly as soon as December of this year.

Preservation Idaho, the nonprofit group that advocates for historic structures across the state, has put out a “preservation alert” in hopes the school district might reconsider tearing down the 1905 building and finding a new use for it instead.

The building, which is not in a historic district, has numerous offices on three floors and large windows, but there’s also evidence of 1950s-era tile with asbestos adhesive as well as lead paint on its interior and exterior.

“The building does not fit into our site master planning, and its usability to the district is questionable at best,” district spokesman Dan Hollar said.

Any renovations of the building would need to meet ADA requirements, safety guidelines and building codes. This, combined with hazardous waste removal, would be costly for the district, he said.

“It’s also important to note that following the recent completion of our 10-year facilities master plan, the community overwhelmingly voiced support for proper athletic fields and spaces. The plans for the Fort Boise area are in line with the values expressed through that process,” said Hollar.

If all goes as planned, the district will tear down the building in January and February 2017. New athletic fields will be built in April and May 2017.

City staffers suggested that the district meet with Preservation Idaho and invite the organization to research and document the building and possibly salvage items such as doors or windows, said Hollar.

John Bertram, head of Preservation Idaho, recently toured the building with district officials. Bertram said the building stands near Fort Boise’s original 4th Street entrance. He believes it was most likely a military administration building for the U.S. Army or possibly lodging for soldiers. A city directory from the early 1950s lists several tenants of the building, said Bertram, including the Department of Agriculture, the Farmers Home Administration, the Department of Commerce, the Bureau of Census and the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

Mature elm and maple trees surround the building. Hollar said that some trees will remain. Others will be removed. The district is working with a landscape architect, said Hollar.

Bertram also found a Works Progress Administration stamp in the concrete sidewalk on the south side of the building from 1941. Such stamps, evidence of New Deal programs in Boise, can be found throughout the oldest neighborhoods in the city.

The Boise School District’s relationship with the preservation community has not always been a peaceful one. Preservationists have criticized the district for razing old school buildings on the Boise Bench, including Cole, Franklin and Whitney elementary schools, as well as the old West Junior High School. The Cole and Franklin sites are still vacant, though a plan is in the works to build a Maverick convenience store at the Franklin site. A new school and the Whitney Community Center have replaced the 1920s-era Whitney Elementary School.

More about old Fort Boise/Boise Barracks

Fort Boise changed its name to the Boise Barracks in 1879. By 1913, just before the beginning of World War I, the U.S. Army moved out of the Boise Barracks. The Army as well as the Idaho National Guard did continue to use the old fort for military training. During World War I, the local American Red Cross and local women’s service clubs used the Barracks as a rehabilitation center for wounded veterans. In 1920, the United States Public Health Service opened a hospital there. These efforts began the evolution that transformed the fort from a military site into a medical one. Today, the V.A. Medical Center occupies the site.