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Proposed $4.5 million face-lift to Pocatello High School encounters hurdles

December 21, 2018

POCATELLO — A city engineer has concerns about how a Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 project consisting of a common area to connect two buildings at Pocatello High School would affect the access to buried utility lines underneath the site’s proposed location.

Further, Steven McCurdy, an alumnus of Pocatello High School who graduated in 1978, is petitioning against the $4.5 million project — stating that many of the planned improvements depicted in conceptual drawings don’t match, or in some way disguise, the school’s existing architecture.

The aspect of the proposed project, which is being designed by the Boise-based Hummel Architecture and Idaho Falls-based Resin Architecture, that has drawn the most criticism is a two-story addition constructed mostly out of glass and metal that would connect the main classroom building to the gymnasium and auditorium buildings.

District spokeswoman Courtney Fisher said the addition would serve as a commons area for students to use to travel between buildings and as a space to congregate, which accomplishes the district’s goal of maintaining a completely secure campus while reducing congestion inside the school’s cafeteria.

The main issue surrounding this aspect of the project is that two large arterial storm and sanitary sewer lines stretch perpendicular underneath the proposed site of the addition.

Merril Quayle, the Pocatello public works development engineer, told the Journal during a phone interview on Wednesday that he has told Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 officials that in order for the addition to be built in its proposed location the buried utility lines must be moved or the school district must apply for and receive an exception from the City Council to construct the addition over the lines.

“We’ve told (School District 25) that we don’t want anything built over these utility lines because these are important lines,” Quayle said. “We’ve said that if they need to build in that location, then they will need to have the lines moved, or they will need to talk to the City Council and request an exception.”

Fisher said that it is unclear whether the school district has to apply for an exception to build the addition over the utility lines because it will be designed in such a way that the glass panels can be removed in the event that city officials need to access the utility lines.

Moreover, Fisher said the school district’s conceptual plan has addressed the city’s concerns regarding the underground utility lines.

“If the city has to access those utility lines for any reason, the conceptual design of the commons area allows for portions of the glass structure to be removed without any permanent tear down,” Fisher said. “Architects are designing it so that it will be a modular unit that can be taken apart. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.”

Though McCurdy, a Pocatello native who now lives in South Jordan, Utah, also mentioned concerns about the underground utility lines during a Tuesday phone interview with the Journal, his primary concern for the Pocatello High School improvement project involves the cosmetics of the planned additions not coinciding with the existing architecture.

In addition to creating a Facebook group titled, “ Save Pocatello High School, ” which was created two weeks ago and already has more than 330 followers, McCurdy also launched a petition on Change.org a little more than a week ago calling on the School District 25 Board of Trustees to reopen the request for proposals in order to build an addition more aligned with the current architecture.

As of Wednesday evening, the petition had more than 1,400 signatures.

McCurdy is mostly worried that the glass and metal addition between the two buildings will appear too modern when juxtaposed with the brick and mortar architecture of the existing structures.

“Anytime you add a modern element to a historic building it takes away from the existing architecture,” McCurdy said. “The proposed addition and the existing buildings will clash in style and I find that problematic. It destroys the current architectural feel of the building.”

Fisher disagrees with McCurdy’s analysis of the design, stating that the glass element depicted in the conceptual plan was chosen specifically because large transparent windows will allow the new structure to showcase the existing architecture.

“What it does is it very intelligently and beautifully preserves that architecture because it doesn’t cover it up,” Fisher said about the glass design of the addition. “The existing architecture becomes the interior wall of the new commons area and will absolutely preserve the historical integrity of the other buildings.”

Other than the cosmetics and underground utility lines concerning the common area addition, McCurdy also said he feels like the school district should be in communication with the Pocatello Historic Preservation Commission about updates to the school that might not be in accordance with its regulations surrounding structures in Historic Old Town Pocatello.

“I told (McCurdy) that the School District has not contacted me for approval by the Historic Preservation Commission nor have they filed a request for vacation of the utility easement,” said Terri Neu, Pocatello assistant planner.

However, Fisher said the school district has not applied for a utility easement or presented information to the Historic Preservation Commission because the project is still in the conceptual design phase and could be subject to additional changes. Fisher also took issue with the fact that McCurdy, as well as anyone else who may be opposed to the project, did not mention any concerns during the Pocatello-Chubbuck School Board of Trustees’ previous meetings.

But McCurdy said that without presenting this pertinent information to the various municipal entities, the school district runs the risk of spending money working with an architectural firm to develop conceptual designs for a project that will never get the necessary approvals to come to fruition.

“This has to go before the Historical Preservation Board for approval,” McCurdy said. “Not only that, but (city officials) have told me that even then, (the school district) has an uphill battle to get this passed.”

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