POCATELLO — Not only did the Pocatello Historic Preservation Commission allow the leader of the Save Pocatello High School group a chance to speak at its Wednesday meeting, but it will also let him talk at future meetings with agenda items concerning the multi-million dollar renovation of the school.
Though Steven McCurdy used some of his five minutes during the Wednesday meeting at City Hall to complain about only receiving five minutes to speak, he did thank the commission for its decision to reverse course after it had twice prevented him from making any public statements about the matter in recent months.
“I know that you have great concern for Pocatello, its historic architecture and Pocatello High School,” said McCurdy, who graduated from the school in 1978 and now lives in Utah. “Save Pocatello High School’s concerns and the alternative plans that we have in development deserves more than five minutes. It’s a serious plan that deserves serious discussion and equal opportunity under the law.”
During his five minutes, McCurdy acknowledged the commission’s primary obligation is to serve as a fact-finding body regarding requests to make changes to historic buildings in the city. He also cited a state statute that says public meetings must be held in a venue free from discriminatory practices.
He believes the commission’s current practice of handling certificates of appropriateness is discriminatory. Certificates of appropriateness are documents the commission issues allowing owners of properties within the historic district to alter their buildings in any way — in this case it allows Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 to make structural changes to the front of Pocatello High School.
“(The commission’s process) treats the school district like a person, a right never given to a public entity,” McCurdy said. “Denying a voice to anyone who can provide information that may be helpful for making an informed decision about the buildings of public concern is counterproductive, inherently unfair and ultimately, I believe, a violation of law.”
The Save Pocatello High School group, which has over 400 followers on its Facebook page and has attracted over 2,000 signatures on a petition calling on the district to reopen the project for public comment, is not against the planned renovation goal of providing accessibility to the administrative offices of the school to those with disabilities, McCurdy said.
“We want Pocatello High School to have ADA access, but we ask, ‘Is there a better way?’” McCurdy said. “Can we provide access while maintaining the current 1930s facade? The answer is yes.”
McCurdy went on to question certain aspects of the school district’s original request for proposal involving the planned renovation in comparison to a secondary design of one element of the project.
The original request for proposal included changes to the front of the school, known as phase one, and the construction of a commons area and instructional classroom space that would connect the two main buildings of the school, referred to as phase two. While the front entrance plans and designs never changed, large underground utility lines between the school’s two main buildings resulted in the district redesigning the commons and classroom area plans.
McCurdy argued the new design of the the commons and classroom area plan fails to meet all of the goals in the request for proposals, which included increasing student safety by connecting the main building with the auditorium and gymnasium areas, providing ADA accessibility to the main and upper floors of the school, providing additional classrooms and commons areas to accommodate increased student enrollment and helping alleviate lunchroom congestion and lack of space in basement cafeteria.
Goals for the overall project have not changed despite the adjustment to some parts of the plan.
However, McCurdy said the new plan does not meet the goals because the added space is not large enough, and no ADA accessibility will be provided to the basement level and cafeteria area of the secondary building.
But the original and subsequent plans never included a goal of providing ADA access to those locations, according to School District 25 spokeswoman Courtney Fisher.
McCurdy then asked the commission to allow public comment when the district requests certificates of appropriateness for future phases of the plan.
After McCurdy’s time expired, the chairman of the commission, Nick Neilson, provided comments of his own. He discussed the previous interactions between McCurdy and the commission and how the commission will handle future matters involving the renovations to Pocatello High School.
Nielson also relayed compliments to the commission from Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad about their service as volunteers and the hard work they do for the city. He then discussed how municipal code prohibits the commission from obtaining public comment on certificates of appropriateness, but said that he would allow McCurdy an opportunity to speak for five minutes during future meetings in the spirit of ensuring this process becomes, and remains, constructive.
“I allowed Mr. McCurdy the opportunity to speak tonight … at my discretion and solely as a courtesy to Mr. McCurdy and the Save Pocatello High School group,” Nielson said. “In the future, I plan to exercise the same discretion and allow the same amount of time to the Save Pocatello High School group at the meeting we address the certificate of appropriateness for phase two.”