POCATELLO — A building that was integral in molding the minds of hundreds of children for decades and has been an eyesore in the center of a neighborhood for more than 16 years could soon become the future home for 18 families.
Though conversations are ongoing and no purchase agreement has been signed, a local non-profit that has focused on revitalizing residential areas in the Gate City for more than a quarter-century, NeighborWorks Pocatello, has tentatively agreed to acquire the vacant Bonneville Elementary School at 320 N. 8th Ave in Pocatello, level it and build approximately 18 new properties.
“We don’t think that it’s very healthy for a neighborhood when an entire city block goes unused,” said NeighborWorks Pocatello Executive Director Mark Dahlquist. “The opportunity to build housing there and bring some families and life back to that area is what really piqued our interest.”
In its non-binding proposal to Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25, NeighborWorks Pocatello has offered to buy the vacant elementary school, first built in 1923, for a total cost of $260,000 with $10,000 in earnest money, according to School District 25 documents.
The amount NeighborWorks Pocatello has offered is half of what School District 25 asked for the property when it initiated an open bid process in December, with an opening price of $518,000, according to Pocatello Development Authority documents. The School District did not receive any bids for the property, which has opened the door for the School District 25 Board of Trustees to consider any proposal moving forward.
When NeighborWorks does acquire the property, it anticipates spending approximately $270,000 to demolish the building, School District 25 documents said. The school district and NeighborWorks Pocatello have 90 days from Sept. 10 to approve the agreement.
A representative from the Bonneville Neighborhood Association, Alfreda Vann, spoke in favor of the acquisition during a Sept. 10 School District 25 board meeting at the district’s main office on Pole Line Road, according to School District 25 documents.
Vann said members of the Bonneville Neighborhood Association were excited about the idea of new housing, rather than keeping an abandoned building, adding that 18 new homes in the area would not only increase the value of existing homes, but would also encourage new families to move into the area.
Furthermore, Vann said that when the school closed in 2003, the neighborhood lost approximately 130 families.
“This is something that we have talked to the Bonneville Neighborhood Association about and they are on board with the project,” Dahlquist said. “Many of the members, after all these years, are still quite sad about the school’s closure and feel the vacant property really made a hole in their neighborhood.”
After it’s construction in the 1920s, School District 25 completed additions to Bonneville Elementary School in 1940 and 1956. At one point, it served as the location of Franklin Junior High School. The school’s closure came after $20,000 in structural repairs were made to the building’s foundation in 2003. However, the school was never reopened once the repairs were completed due to falling enrollment and financial considerations.
One obstacle NeighborWorks Pocatello and School District 25 officials are currently tackling involves the abatement of asbestos inside the dilapidated property. In its initial proposal, NeighborWorks indicated the removal of any asbestos inside the school would come from the $250,000 purchase price.
During a Sept. 17 School District 25 board meeting, Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 Director of Business Operations, Bart Reed, said the potential is high for a small amount of asbestos inside the building considering the building’s construction used mostly wood and not a lot of asbestos tiles. Moreover, Reed noted that the district recently completed a sizable asbestos abatement project at Franklin Middle School and the cost was approximately $50,000, adding that he believed the cost of abatement at the Bonneville building would be significantly less.
“Over the last few days we have been working to wrap our arms around understanding the property,” Dahlquist said. “We have a good feeling based on school records, which are good, that there is a minimal amount of asbestos there. We know there is some, but this is hopefully something we can work out and manage with the School District. We still need to investigate more, but if we find out there is inordinate level of asbestos then we will have to renegotiate.”
Ultimately, the School District 25 board opted to table voting to approve NeighborWorks’ proposal until School District 25 receives a bid for the cost of the asbestos abatement.
Though NeighborWorks intends to construct affordable housing in place of the school, Dahlquist said the goal is to include a variety of homes for people of differing income levels. NeighborWorks has yet to consult an architectural or engineering firm to design any of the homes, but Dahlquist anticipates an array of different home styles will further increase the value of the entire neighborhood.
“One thing we are concurring on is that we don’t want to make this all low-income housing,” Dahlquist said. “Concentrating a whole city block with low-income housing is not healthy for a neighborhood. A healthy mix is what we are going after.”
The School District 25 Board of Trustees has not yet released its agenda for the upcoming board meetings in October, but it’s possible it discusses NeighborWorks’ proposal sometime during its Oct. 8 work session or Oct. 15 regular board meeting, Fisher said, adding that NeighborWorks will need to discuss any changes to its proposal with its own board before coming back to School District 25.
As development throughout the Gate City area remains focused on the exterior fringes, Dahlquist said he is excited to partner with School District 25 to initiate a revitalization project that is more centrally located and will improve a longstanding Pocatello neighborhood.
“Our strategy has involved building individual homes on one or two empty lots in older neighborhoods,” Dahlquist said. “To have an entire city block where we have the freedom to be creative is awesome. This is something that will truly lift up the Bonneville neighborhood and hopefully bleed out from there.”