There’s a lot to be happy about concerning Pocatello High School.
School District 25 is setting aside millions of dollars to provide some badly needed renovations of the historic school.
Pocatello High School is so revered by the community that those renovations have attracted a lot of attention and input.
But that’s where this story takes an unfortunate turn.
The renovations have ignited a debate, and that debate has turned ugly. There’s an online petition aimed at stopping the renovations because some feel they’re not in line with the school’s current architecture. The Pocatello Historical Preservation Commission has been sucked into the fray by its decision to not allow the leader of the petition effort to speak at two of its meetings.
The back and forth has even attracted the attention of a Utah lawmaker who graduated from Pocatello High School. Utah Rep. Susan Dayley Pulsipher is urging the School District 25 Board of Trustees to put the brakes on the project so more public input can be gathered.
Pulsipher said in an open letter to the school board, “I served as a member of the Jordan (Utah) School District Board of Education for 6 years and as president for 2 years. During my term I conducted many town hall meetings, read many letters from constituents, and listened for hours to individuals trying to understand different points of view. Many times our decisions were changed or modified because of input from the community. We delayed building several schools for 2 years because we had not had time to adequately listen to the community. The changes were a benefit to the outcome and worth the wait.”
Unfortunately, the very positive news of School District 25 deciding to spend millions of dollars to upgrade an iconic building has morphed into a very personal, mean-spirited debate with both sides digging in for a lengthy fight.
That’s where we’re currently at and we’re not going to assess blame for that predicament.
We are going to offer some ways out of this mess to save our community from deepening the wound created by this controversy.
First off, leaving Pocatello High School unchanged is not an option. These proposed renovations came about from another ugly controversy, that being the redrawing of the district’s boundaries dictating which schools students attend based on where they live.
The trend prompting that discussion was that most of School District 25’s high school students do not want to attend Pocatello High School. The district’s open enrollment policy put Pocatello High School’s student numbers in a tailspin because most students wanted to attend the newer Highland and Century high schools.
It was very much an untenable situation that School District 25 trustees and administrators grappled with.
Their solution, and it was a good one, was to set aside millions of dollars to upgrade Pocatello High School to make it more attractive to students, so attending that school wasn’t seen as something negative.
We realize that Pocatello High School holds a very special place in the hearts of its former students, but something needs to be done to improve the school and School District 25 is correct in wanting to spend the money to make the school better, at least from the standpoint of aesthetics, convenience and safety.
We implore those fighting the renovations to come to the realization that changes need to be made to the school.
We also implore the School District 25 Board of Trustees as well as district administrators to realize that more input on this project will result in a better project.
We urge the district to put the brakes on the project temporarily so that an advisory committee can be formed to review the proposed renovations and make sure the school board is being presented with the best options.
We guarantee that the formation of an advisory committee with members including the project’s critics will result in better and more thoughtful renovations being made to Pocatello High School.
There’s been a lot of dismissive behavior on both sides regarding the debate over the renovations and that needs to stop.
For critics of the current renovations to paint School District 25 officials as having some bizarre agenda to hurt Pocatello High School is absurd.
Equally foolhardy is the marginalization by district officials of the input of the community and Pocatello High School alums regarding what happens to a school with roots dating back to the Gate City’s start.
Both sides need to realize that they both have value. School District 25 deserves praise for wanting to spend a ton of money on an aging high school to make it a better place for its students. And isn’t it great that so many people whose lives were impacted by Pocatello High School through the years want to provide input.
In other parts of the country people are pretty apathetic about their schools but when it comes to Pocatello High School there’s a lot of interest and passion.
School District 25 needs to harness that energy and use it constructively.
The alternative of course is to continue heading down the current path, which means more controversy for our community concerning Pocatello High School, probably lawsuits against the district to stop the project, and the feeling those of us on the sidelines have that even when it comes to spending millions of dollars to upgrade a local landmark, too many of us will find a way to disagree and turn the process into a root canal.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Our advice to those on both sides of this issue is quite simple.
Let’s hit the reset button, start respecting each other’s input and all be part of the celebration when Pocatello High School’s new look is unveiled.
Because improving Poky is something that should unite us rather than divide us.