POCATELLO — With all of its students finishing this academic year from home due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 has expedited a massive renovation to one of its high schools.
The second phase of renovations to Pocatello High School are now underway as heavy equipment trucks begin preparing the land between the school’s two main buildings for the construction of a connecting structure that will house a new student commons area and additional classroom space.
“Construction was originally planned to begin in June, but due to the emergency closure of school and the School District 25 Board of Trustees’ decision not to reopen school for the remainder of the year, the contractor was authorized to begin the project in April,” district spokeswoman Courtney Fisher told the Idaho State Journal in an email. “This will help in completing the project on time in preparation for the 2021-22 school year set to begin in August 2021.”
To date, Fisher said School District 25 has set aside a total of about $9.5 million for both renovation phases of Pocatello High School and for the acquisition of necessary furnishings and equipment inside the new building.
The first phase, finished in the fall of 2019, included remodeled administrative office spaces and a new front entrance to the school complete with an access ramp that meets the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The first phase of renovations totaled approximately $700,000, Fisher told the Journal in September.
The second phase involves constructing the connector between the two main buildings, the large student commons area and additional classroom space for science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction.
For the remainder of the summer, Fisher said the construction plan for phase two involves clearing the existing ground, installing buried utilities for the new construction, installing a footing for the new structures, erecting the steel frame structure on the new instructional building and working to enclose the new building before winter sets in. Then during the winter months, contractors will work on completing the interior of the instructional building before starting on the enclosed connector the following spring and summer, Fisher added.
“School District 25 was able to work with the contractor on beginning the construction phase nearly two months early and the weather has been agreeable this spring to allow the work to progress,” Fisher said. “Starr Corporation headquartered in Twin Falls, with a local office in Pocatello, was awarded the bid for phase two in the amount of $6.8 million.”
Several aspects of the renovation project have been no stranger to controversy, with an alumnus of the high school starting a petition last year calling for School District 25 to modify its plans.
The leader of a Facebook group titled Save Pocatello High School and creator of the petition, Steven McCurdy, who graduated from the school in 1978 and now lives in Utah, was mostly concerned about how the proposed front entrance associated with phase one would change the historic nature of the school, which is located in Pocatello’s Historic Old Town District.
Moreover, McCurdy took issue with several design elements of the connecting structure associated with phase two of the project, citing concerns of safety in addition to his previous cosmetic comments.
The design stage of phase two of the renovation project went through several iterations before a final version was approved, with underlying utility lines under the first proposed site for the new connecting structure creating the largest obstacles to overcome.
Ultimately, the Pocatello City Council in August voted to approve the plan for phase two after School District 25 officials and members of the district’s architectural firm for the project, Boise-based Hummel Architects, successfully defended it during a City Council meeting.
The relocation of the neon chief sign currently attached to the school’s auditorium building near The Palace was one topic School District 25 board members discussed in detail when developing the plan. Though the neon chief sign will find a new home during the second phase of renovations, the rock adjacent to The Palace’s north entrances will not, Fisher said.
“The palace rock will be removed and the school will only have the one rock currently located in front of the main high school building,” Fisher said. “The neon chief sign, which has been removed, will be relocated to the area between the main high school building and the new addition where it will be more visible to the community.”
Pocatello High School Principal Lisa Delonas said she can’t wait to see what the finished renovation project will look like and is excited to provide much-needed classroom space to her students.
“We are super stoked and this is a great opportunity for our students,” Delonas said. “Creating a safe place for our students to transition between classes and provide them with additional STEM classrooms is something we are very excited about.”