Should Highlands Elementary be razed to make way for a new school building?
A 57-year-old North End school will be replaced and not remodeled, the Boise School District announced Tuesday, after a year of information gathering and discussion about the midcentury modern structure on Bogus Basin Road.
The district said a detailed analysis was made regarding budgetary constraints; staff and neighborhood preferences; educational impact and safety; and preservation, environmental and outdoor opportunities. Survey results showed that 68 percent of Highlands Elementary School’s parents, staff and neighbors wanted a new school, with that growing to 82 percent among just parents, the district said.
Debate over whether to build a new school or remodel the current one, which was built in 1961, has been contentious at times, with people mired in a fight over history, safety and what’s best for students. The district said the school is outdated and rates poorly for meeting educational needs.
“A new Highlands Elementary is the best fit educationally, economically and environmentally for our students and the school’s parents, staff and neighbors,” said Don Coberly, Boise School District superintendent, in a news release. “With the needs of our primary constituencies now met, we look forward to designing a school that may incorporate many of the amenities requested by the public at large.”
Dawn Blancaflor, president of the Highlands Elementary parent-teacher organization, said she was surprised about the timing but not about the decision. School district officials had said survey results would be announced at the end of March and a decision about the school’s fate would come in April.
“I did not see this coming,” Blancaflor said Thursday. “But I am pleased with the results. I’m glad the district put out the survey.”
Preservationists and some neighbors bemoan the fact that another Boise landmark will disappear once ground is broken for the new school. The current structure was built to reflect the architecture of the upscale neighborhood at the edge of the Foothills.
With its low, sloping roof line, split-level construction, broad windows and exposed beams, Highlands displays many of the characteristics that define midcentury modern architecture.
But the school is overcrowded, and its stairs make it unfriendly to students with disabilities. Blancaflor’s fourth-grade son was injured recently in a skiing accident, and “he has to navigate up and down the steps on crutches,” she said. “It’s an example of how the current design just doesn’t reflect what we need today.”
Paula Benson, the president of Preservation Idaho, which supported remodeling the school, said the group respects positions held by the neighborhood parents. But she said she does not think they received enough information about how a remodel could have provided needed amenities within budget and in one school year.
Support for remodeling was much stronger citywide, Benson said.
“From both the architectural perspective and the ‘green’ impact perspective of an entire building going into the landfill, this is a lost opportunity for a visionary project,” she said.
She credited the school district with giving her group a chance to weigh in and for maintaining good communication. Preservation Idaho will seek to continue educating people and collaborating with the district and individual schools, Benson said.
The school district said the new school’s design phase will continue through August. Several features suggested by remodel and preservation proponents, as well as neighbors, will be included as site plans develop, the district said.