A month ago I attended the Pocatello Historic Preservation Commission meeting to voice opposition to the school board plan for a new multi-million dollar Pocatello High School administrative office and entry, a plan that many believe is unnecessary and will diminish the school’s architectural beauty. However, I was not allowed to speak and the measure passed without hearing any opposition.
The National Historic Preservation Commission and the Idaho Historic Preservation commission have since informed me, that not being allowed to speak in this situation, violates the Certified Local Governments Program of which Pocatello is a participant. One must ask how the Pocatello Historic Preservation Commission could make such a mistake.
I believe that the commission process was purposefully manipulated to prevent opposing voices from being heard; the Historic Commission meeting was little more than a kangaroo court where incomplete, misleading, and sometimes false testimony was presented as fact and where differing voices were not heard at all. The process was made all the more egregious by a School District representative’s false assertion that there was no opposition to its plan.
By erroneously excluding divergent ideas and dissenting voices, members of the Pocatello Historic Preservation Commission demonstrated that they do not understand the procedures that dictate their actions. As a fact-finding body, whose singular job it is to see that the community’s patrimony of historical buildings is preserved and maintained in the best possible way, the Commission should be seeking more information, not less.
But it is not only the Historic Preservation Commission that seems set on railroading through the school board’s ill-conceived idea, a City Council Member told me, categorically, that he “could not discuss it.”
We, at Save Pocatello High School, believe the School District intends to needlessly breach Pocatello High School’s beautiful facade, at a high cost to tax payers, without meeting the school’s needs, including providing full ADA accessibility. Because the Historic Preservation Commission has not been thoughtful in its task, it is complicit in this mistake.
We believe that many of the School District’s goals are reasonable and needed. That with thoughtful consideration all objectives can be accomplished. That the beauty of the school can be maintained while also providing ADA access.
The Pocatello Historic Preservation Commission’s only job is to see that our historical buildings are protected and preserved. It has a mandate to guarantee that before changing, modifying or destroying historical architecture, all other options have been exhausted.
We suggest that before the Commission approves a Certificate of Appropriateness for cutting into the Pocatello High School building that it be able to answer the following questions in the affirmative:
1. Are the needs that may require modifying or changing existing historical architecture legitimate?
2. Do the proposed architectural changes meet those needs?
3. Are the proposed architectural changes the only way to accomplish those goals?
4. Are the architectural changes harmonious and in keeping with the existing traditional architecture?
Save Pocatello High School understands that Pocatello High School needs ADA accessibility, but defacing the facade in the planned way does not accomplish that goal. In fact, the new proposed entrance provides ADA accessibility to only one floor. Does anyone even know how many students would use the new entry? Depending on other considerations this entry may not even been needed.
The School District has stated that there needs to be direct access to the office. We believe that moving school offices to the soon to be constructed, new building, would be less costly, provide ADA access to all three floors, allow direct access to the office, all while allowing the existing architecture to remain intact.
We understand that the plan for the glass commons area will soon be announced. If the process plays out as it has thus far, the Historic Preservation Commission will not hear opinions and the community will once again not have a say in the proposed plan. Without meaningful input the School District will once again do as it pleases, simply because it can.
We ask that the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District bring integrity back to the process — open up their process to public comment. We further ask the Pocatello Historic Preservation Commission to fight for the preservation of Pocatello High School and not simply be a rubber stamp for the School District.
If you agree with this opinion please sign the Save Pocatello High School Petition at http://chng.it/yq2gLYvcHf Call the School District Offices - Phone: 208.232.3563 and the Historic Preservation Commission 208.234.6500.
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.