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A two-year battle between Boise school leaders and local preservationists has some looking at ways to resolve the next conflict

Reprinted from the Idaho Statesman, May 8, 2010
By Bethann Stewart

Preservation Idaho leaders say they did not want to publicly confront the Boise School District for the second year in a row.

But months after they dinged the district with the smellier of their annual Orchids and Onions Awards for destroying South Junior High, built in 1948 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the district made two more decisions that sparked even more outrage.

Despite public outcry and the protests of hundreds of residents, the district demolished two nationally recognized historic school buildings: Cole Elementary, first built in 1888 and Boise's oldest standing school building; and Franklin Elementary, built in 1905.

Handing out the second Onion in a row to the district, which will happen in a Saturday ceremony, is a stinker for the preservation organization, too.

"Obviously, if we could have convinced the school district to take some other action, it would have been preferable to scolding them after they've misbehaved," said treasurer Dan Everhart.

Public interest in saving the Cole and Franklin school buildings did not translate into the money the school district sought for the properties in order to meet its budget, said district spokesman Dan Hollar.

He called the demolitions an "unfortunate circumstance," saying the properties are worth more now without the buildings on them.

Both sites are still for sale.

"We do have a strong history of valuing historic preservation when we can," Hollar said, citing the preservation of Bown House in Southeast Boise and the renovation of Boise High.

Though historic school buildings around the country have found new lives as hostels, community centers and multi-family housing, many cities struggle to balance the cost of educating today's children with the desire to save a piece of history.

It's a difficult position for any agency to be in. The Boise School District has a finite number of buildings and not all of them are worth saving, said trustee Nancy Gregory.

"At South, we preserved the deco that was identified as valuable," Gregory said. "Our idea is to preserve Lowell (Elementary), which is why we didn't tear it down. We do have to think about the bottom line."

The district is always open to community comments, she said.

But some people say that given the time and the right attitudes, different decisions could have been made.

"It wouldn't have taken that much creativity to come up with a community solution," said Boise City Councilwoman Elaine Clegg. "That is the challenge."

While community goodwill is hard to quantify, it pays off in the long run, said Boise developer David Hale, who, with partner Elizabeth Tullis and architect Dwaine Carver, will receive an Orchid for their renovation of the 1960 Boise Travelodge, now known as the Modern Hotel.

When he bought the building next door to the hotel - the American Linen Building - Hale had the option of tearing it down. He chose not to. Boise residents had decades of memories associated with what is now the Linen Building special events center.

"What one loses when one does that is all the history that goes with it," Hale said. "Part of my process was making sure the community was tied in with my project."

Despite the criticism, Preservation Idaho is set to acknowledge how well the school district expanded the gym at North Junior High.

But the group is presenting the architect team with the Orchid, since the contractors were the ones who proposed the final plan, which kept more of the building's historic character than the district's original plan.

As a result of the demolitions, Preservation Idaho held a series of public meetings, which has led to continued discussion with city leaders about creating a possible demolition-review ordinance.

Part of that conversation is the sustainability of demolition and the waste it creates, Everhart said.

"We can't just have trucks and trucks of concrete and steel going to landfill," he said.

Bethann Stewart: 377-6393