Plans for a $7.5 million renovation of Pocatello High School continue advancing in the face of criticism that it will alter the historic character of the building.
Pocatello native Steven McCurdy has led the effort to get Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 to reconsider its approach.
McCurdy — a 1978 graduate of Pocatello High School who now lives in South Jordan, Utah — created the “Save Pocatello High School” Facebook site to collect signatures of opponents. It currently has nearly 1,900 people who’ve signed on.
McCurdy says the two-story glass and steel connection planned between the main classroom building, and the gym and auditorium structures is of particular concern. He says it doesn’t mesh with the existing school architecture.
But a new design for the front entrance to the school recently received a needed stamp of approval from the Pocatello Historic Preservation Commission as fitting into the historic character of the area.
And even McCurdy says the new front entrance plan is a vast improvement over the prior approach.
“The current plan reduced the size of that entryway by a considerable amount and it does take into consideration some of the architectural elements existing in the building,” he said.
But he adds that the process is flawed when the school system can just swap one front entrance design for another without going back to the public for more input.
And he still describes the glass connector a “monstrosity” and believes most Pocatellans oppose it.
But school board member Janie Gebhardt says the glass connector helps meet the demands of the city and the needs of students.
She said it will provide better security, prevent students from having to walk outside to get to other parts of the now separate buildings, and provide a commons areas where students can eat.
Gebhardt says Highland and Century High schools have commons areas. But Pocatello High School does not. So students at Pocatello often gather on stairways. A commons would provide a better situation.
“It’s nice for them to have a place to sit down and eat, instead of just eating out on the stairs,” Gebhardt said.
The glass connector will also provide better accessibility under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
“We will end up with accessibility that we haven’t had in that particular building,” she said.
And while the glass connector will cover underground city utility lines, the removable glass panels should help provide city access to the lines as needed, she said. A brick passageway appears unlikely to work there.
And leaving the buildings separate, as suggested by McCurdy, would leave shortcomings in the accessibility, security and commons aspects, she said.
Further, by providing transparency, the renovation can enhance visibility of the school’s details, Gebhardt said.
Project Manager Jessica Heggie, an architect with Hummel Architects in Boise, which is running the renovation, said the plan has three main goals. One is to improve ADA accessibility. The second is to enhance security by providing a clear and controlled main entrance. And the third is to respect the existing design, while still being a good steward of taxpayer dollars.
The design also needs to accommodate changes in technology. Heggie said the classrooms at Pocatello High School will have everything that the other schools in Pocatello have for technology.
And Gebhardt says that renovations eventually happen to many older buildings. Pocatello High School, for example, has been renovated several times. So it’s difficult for a renovation to keep the building the same as that known by all prior generations of students.
But the design tries to provide what the students would like to see there, Gebhardt said.
They also talked to teachers and administrators who use the building about what they would like to see as part of the renovation, she said.
Meanwhile, the goal is to start construction on the project in the summer and complete the renovation project in 2021, according to Heggie.
She says Hummel, which is being assisted by Resin Architecture in Idaho Falls, is diligently working with the city of Pocatello on addressing the issue of accessibility to the utility lines that would be under the glass connector. The space that would be covered by the glass connector, in fact used to be a road, she said.