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Local couple honored for preservation of old school: Baines receive Orchid Award for work on historic building

By William Anderson
Argus Observer, May 12, 2010

Retired Fruitland High School teacher Konnie Baines talks about the gold type writer she was given as a retirement gift. Baines and her husband, Don, were recently honored by Preservation Idaho with an Orchid Award for their work on the Old School Community Center in Fruitland.

FRUITLAND — Don and Konnie Baines set out about 14 years ago to save a landmark in Fruitland.

The old Fruitland High School, now known as the Old School Community Center, was built in 1928. The school was used as a high school, with a gymnasium wing, along with a western wing added in 1939.

From its inception, the school was used as the high school in Fruitland until 1985. From 1986 until 1995 the school was used as a middle school, before a more modern middle school was added to start the 1995-96 school year.

Since 1996, the Baines, of Fruitland, have worked toward preserving the school, which at the time was scheduled for demolition.

Saturday evening, the Baines were honored by Preservation Idaho and the Idaho Preservation Council, during its 33rd annual Orchids and Onions Awards, at the Capitol Building in Boise.

“We didn’t know anything about it until we were honored with it,” Don Baines said of the award.

The Baines received the Heritage Stewardship Orchid. The award is the council’s way of showing “dedication to historic preservation through the long-term maintenance and care of historic, architecturally-significant, or culturally-important sites and structures,” according to Preservation Idaho’s Web site.

“It was really a surprise, very humbling,” Konnie Baines said. “It is nice to know that the community appreciates the effort we put into the building.”

As for the Onions awards, they are given to individuals or organizations that have shown an insensitivity toward historical projects.

“Some of the people in the community nominated us for saving the Old School,” Konnie said. “We have spent 14 years saving it and trying to preserve it.”

Both Don and Konnie Baines graduated from Fruitland High School in the late 1950s. Konnie Baines moved on to teach at the high school until the new one was built in the 1980s and then taught there until 2000.

The couple ended up paying almost $100,000 to try and save the school, along with a small group of people, and later formed a 501(c)(3), Alma Mater Inc., to have an entity run the Old School Community Center, not just a couple of individuals.

A 501(c)(3) is a tax-exempt, non-profit association that, in the Old School’s case, is in education.

Inside the school there have been many changes since any students roamed the halls. Included in the changes is the auditorium, where a new section of stage and seats on the main floor, as well as in the balcony, have been added or restored. The addition of 42 new windows were installed, which Don Baines said made a difference in the heating bill, along with upgrading from the old boiler for heat to 11 gas furnaces.

A community library and a reception hall are a couple of the uses in the different rooms, as well as Hotshots Gymnastics in the gymnasium.TaVaci performing arts, the Gem Cloggers and the Fruitland Chamber of Commerce are a few of the different programs and businesses that have been attracted to the school.

Children’s theater, weddings, funerals and anything in between can take place at the school as well. The College of Western Idaho also has a classroom for its nursing program downstairs, and a preschool is also within the walls.

One of the most considerable events that is coming to the Old School is the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services, which will come to Fruitland in October, as one of six locations in Idaho.

Even with all that has been accomplished, Don Baines feels there will always be work to be done.

“We tried to restore it back to normal as much as we could,” he said. “There are still things that need to be done.”