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15 receive kudos from Preservation Idaho

Reprinted from the Idaho Statesman, June 21, 2008
By Anna Webb

The restoration of Rainbow Bridge earns ITD one award. An Onion goes to the Buhl School District, which tore down a 1920s building.

15 receive kudos from Preservation Idaho The restoration of Rainbow Bridge earns ITD one award. An Onion goes to the Buhl School District, which tore down a 1920s building. Ah, the scent of preservation. Sometimes sweet. Sometimes fetid.

Preservation Idaho, a non-profit organization that promotes the protection of historic buildings and neighborhoods across Idaho, has named 15 recipients of its annual Orchid Award for the best in preservation efforts. It also awarded the Orchid's stinkier counterpart - the Onion - to a notable preservation failure. The bouquet of 2008 Orchids includes:

Idaho Transportation Department: Restoration of Rainbow Bridge on Idaho 55, Payette River Canyon

The department spent about $3 million to restore the bridge, considered one of the most photogenic and well-traveled in Idaho, said Dan Everhart of Preservation Idaho. After the bridge was built in 1933, the Idaho Statesman, perhaps sensing its future orchid-dom, called it "one of the most beautiful structures of its kind," and a case in which a man-made structure enhances a natural scene rather than detracting from it.

The bridge is an "open spandrel concrete arch" design. Its builders left the spandrels, or the spaces between the arches, open for visual effect. The bridge needed restoration because seven decades and lots of chemical de-icing had taken a toll on its steel and concrete. The restoration, finished in 2007, was tricky. ITD left one lane of the bridge open to traffic and workers had to be ever-vigilant to not drop materials into the river below, where they could do environmental damage - or land on boaters.

Steve Grant, ITD spokesman, said that because of the bridge's architectural and picturesque qualities, "replacing it with a typical bridge wasn't an option." He added, "It was well-built to begin with."

Greg Contos: Restoration of the Atkinson House, 206 W. Jefferson St., Boise

Everhart said that when Contos bought the house with a wide porch and a prime location in Boise's Near North End, he faced the usual restoration challenges - garish wallpaper and shag carpet. Opting not to sell the house, despite receiving at least one offer from a potential buyer who wanted to raze it, he restored the house to its 1906 appearance. He kept the house's original windows, adding more insulation to compensate. He updated bathrooms to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, while keeping them inside their original "footprint." The house's layout stayed intact. Design-wise, the house is a foursquare, meaning it is as wide as it is tall. Its builders, the Atkinsons, the first family to live there, owned a blacksmith shop on 9th Street. Contos, who describes himself as a "designer for adaptive reuse properties," has revived six old homes to be used as commercial space in the same neighborhood, as well as near Hyde Park.

"I've always been interested in vintage architecture. I appreciate workmanship and specialized materials that are in contrast to today's mass-produced materials and boring architecture," he said. The Atkinson house has fir woodwork, pocket doors, molding and other attractions, including geo-thermal heat.

And then...

Preservation Idaho is awarding a lone Onion this year, to the Buhl School District for demolishing its 1920-era high school last fall.

Everhart said the school's design was based on a building at the University of California in Berkeley.

It represented one of Buhl's few monumental civic structures, he said. The city lost its original city hall two decades ago. The school board voted to tear down the building, despite objections from some local residents and preservationists.

District Superintendent Margaret Cox said the board made the decision to tear down the school after years of discussion. New to her post, she said she doesn't have the institutional knowledge to explain the decision. The lot where the school stood is fenced, "and waiting for board action," Cox said.

Preservation Idaho hands out the awards Saturday night at a ceremony in Rupert.