Guest Opinions

Boise schools need to be updated and ‘rebuilt,’ but don’t sacrifice history

What Boise schools will get for $172.5 million

Two new elementary schools and an expanded high school are among the first construction projects that will be undertaken by the Boise School District. The plan features major construction, expansion and remodeling for 22 schools, and maintenance a
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Two new elementary schools and an expanded high school are among the first construction projects that will be undertaken by the Boise School District. The plan features major construction, expansion and remodeling for 22 schools, and maintenance a

Schools are landmarks of our neighborhoods and for decades Boiseans have watched and waited, commented and testified, as our school district proposed plans to maintain their properties. We have read the 2017 bond information shared by the district and we understand the need for the bond; however, we have great concerns, which we have shared with the Boise School District, regarding how they will go about improving these schools.

In the 1980s they proposed demolition of the historic Boise High School. In the 1990s they threatened to remove the Bown House. In 2008, following a bond election, South Junior High and Whitney Elementary were “rebuilt,” after the National Register-eligible originals were demolished. Franklin and Cole elementary schools were demolished in 2009. The use of the word “rebuild” means demolition, and three schools will meet this fate, with several others losing main buildings to demolition.

Specifically, the bond will result in the demolition of all or part of three historic neighborhood landmarks: Pierce Park, Whittier and Highlands elementary schools. Additions and renovations may adversely affect the historic character of Collister and Longfellow elementaries and Boise High.

Preservation Idaho would like to endorse the upcoming March 14 Boise School District bond election; we acknowledge overcrowded conditions that limit our schools’ capacity for future growth, as well as a serious backlog of deferred maintenance. Our schools need to be fixed. But we encourage the school district to proceed carefully with the investment of public funds. The district has met with us and we are hopeful that those dialogues will continue.

Our suggestions: If Boiseans fund this program of school rehabilitation and replacement, the district should proceed with sensitivity toward the wonderful legacy these school buildings represent. The district has demonstrated at several North End schools that they can apply skill and imagination to preserve unique historical features . Work funded through this bond can be done thoughtfully.

Three “musts,” from our perspective:

▪  Keep the unique architecture, facades and visual appeal of public buildings that define Boise. Work with qualified architectural historians to preserve characteristics of these structures.

▪  Don’t sacrifice historic buildings to site plans that primarily serve automobiles over people, places and posterity.

▪  Write into construction contracts some assertive requirements for historic preservation and adaptive reuse or recycling of precious materials, such as maple flooring and antique tiles. We shouldn’t teach “green” to our children in the classroom and not practice it in our rebuilding effort.

Sacrificing the history of Boise in any haste to remedy existing deficiencies and to prepare for the future would earn, in our view, a failing grade; however, with some extra work and study, buildings and unique building features can continue to serve our students and their communities.

John Bertram is the past president and a current board member of Preservation Idaho.

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