Thursday evening starting at 6 p.m. at Pocatello City Hall, both the Mayor and the City Council will hear Pocatello School District's appeal of the Certificate of Appropriateness for Phase 2 of the Pocatello High School addition that was appropriately denied by the Pocatello Historic Commission. For those keeping track, Thursday evening might very well be the last opportunity for the Citizens of Pocatello to NOT be heard. It's unlikely that the School District and the City of Pocatello, has ever tried so hard, for so long, and with such success to NOT hear opposing or dissenting points of view from the community, as on this issue.
The School project was announced over a year ago, but efforts to inform the public were kept as hush-hush as possible. Unless you are in the habit of going to the SD25 Facebook/webpage you probably didn't hear about it until at least day six of a seven day open comment period, when an article appeared in the Idaho State Journal. Most of you didn't hear about it then, but probably months later when Save Pocatello High School brought it to your attention. While the School District moved ahead based on 22 favorable comments for the plans proposed by Hummel Architecture, Save Pocatello High School collected thousands of signatures on a petition in opposition to their plan. It has been more than a little ironic to hear the School Board insist that the public was adequately notified and then blame the Idaho State Journal for not making the public aware sooner. Still some in Pocatello remain unaware of the Districts plans..
However, that was not the beginning of their campaign to keep the public in the dark. That public failure began much earlier when the Pocatello School Board failed to follow their own operating principle #25, which states that "prior to making a decision that the board identifies as having major impact on students, staff, and/or patrons, the board will use a public hearing process to gather input (emphasis mine).“ As a member of the public, that was your first opportunity to NOT be heard. At any point since, the School Board could have changed course and held a public hearing. They chose not to. More disconcerting, they apparently convinced themselves that they didn't need to. As one school district official told me, once the architectural firm was chosen, they weren't going to revisit their decision or change their plans.
Save Pocatello has tried hard over the last six months to have the community’s voices heard in an open forum. First, before the School Board and then before the Historic Preservation Commission, where Save Pocatello High School was denied not once but twice to make their case. On the second occasion the commission literally walked out, apparently on counsel of the city attorney. Consequently, Phase #1 of the PHS addition project was in effect approved essentially without ANY public input. Despite public outcry, the School District disingenuously told the Historic Preservation Commission that they knew of no opposition to their plans. Not only was the public NOT heard, but their opinion was distorted and silenced.
Weeks later, when I was given an opportunity to speak to the Historic Preservation Commission the public was still denied. Then when Phase #2 came before the commission although I personally was allowed to speak, for a third time the public was NOT given the same opportunity. Unless changes at the Historic Preservation Commission are made, community voices will continue to NOT be heard.
Yes, I know some of you are saying that Thursday night’s City Council meeting represents your last opportunity to NOT be heard - why come? That, of course is what the School District wants you to think. It seems as if they could, the School Board would even bar you from attending. The people of Pocatello and Chubbuck are speaking out on multiple issues and they want to be heard! They want a voice in how taxpayer money is spent and the projects it finances. The School Board and City may have limited your ability to speak out, but they cannot limit your ability to be seen. And in this twisted, mixed up scenario where a community's input is intentionally sidelined, being seen can still be effective. Stand and be recognized. Let the City Council see that you want the School Board’s appeal to be denied, that you want the School Board to listen to the differing voices of the community. In addition, it will also help make the point that the citizens are owed a full-blown public hearing concerning the remaining phase of the proposed additions to PHS. We all want a better Pocatello High School, do not let this last chance to NOT be heard pass you by.
Pocatello native Steven McCurdy is the chairman of the Save Pocatello High School group. He is a cultural travel documentary filmmaker and is on the board of the Beaux-Arts Academy, a school in Provo, Utah, that teaches classical art and architecture. He is currently working on a documentary project about Old Town Pocatello. McCurdy currently resides in South Jordan, Utah.