Pocatello patrons weigh in on how to move forward after a school fire

After a fire charred part of Pocatello’s Highland High this spring, district leaders are considering their next moves: to rebuild, rebuild and remodel, or build a new high school and even run a bond?

Recently, they turned to patrons for answers.

So far, community members seem to support the idea of restoring and/or improving Highland, but are split when it comes to a new school and leery of a large bond — which would be the community’s first in about 25 years. 

Nearly 3,000 patrons recently chimed in via a survey the school district sent out, and most strongly or somewhat supported using insurance monies to restore Highland (about 69%) or restore and improve it (64%). 

Community members were divided on repurposing Highland and building a new high school: about 46% strongly or somewhat supported the option, while about 45% opposed it. 

Most patrons surveyed strongly or somewhat supported using the insurance money to restore Highland (about 69%) or restore and improve it (64%). 

The survey also sought feedback on a potential bond measure that could run as early as November and run anywhere from $25 million to $125 million. 

The most inexpensive measure was the most popular — and the only option that had more approval than pushback — garnering about 52% support.

Patrons showed most support for a potential $25 million bond. They were largely against the more expensive options.

At this time, trustees are still considering what the potential bond would be used for, but options include improvements to Highland or a new high school. 

If district leaders opt to put a bond on the November ballot, language would be due by Sept. 18. 

Nearly 1,800 comments were gathered as part of the survey, and ran the gamut from concerns and complaints to support and excitement:

  • “The current economy being in distress, how do you propose Idaho/Pocatello residences be able to support a bond that will require more funds being taken from their monthly incomes?” one patron wrote. 
  • “I am not really supportive of using this tragedy to rush an agenda,” another said. “I think if the district wants to plan for growth, those plans should be thought out and focused, not frenzied because we want to use insurance.”
  • “Please build a new high school,” one community member wrote. “Make it big enough for the growth of the town. Look to the future of Pocatello.”
  • “The time to rebuild better and stronger than before is now!” another said. “Use this fire as a catalyst to make vast improvements! … We love this area and want to see it being loved and improved!”

Trustee expresses ‘disgust’ with the survey

Trustees reviewed the survey results at a regular board meeting last week. One trustee, Deanna Judy, was vocal about her displeasure with the survey, and said her initial reaction to the options presented — which she called “impalatable” — was “immediate disgust.”

Judy said she felt she was not given enough time to weigh in on the survey before it was sent out; she saw it one day and it was distributed the next. Judy also expressed concerns about how the information was presented. “The way you frame it will give you a different outcome.”

Pocatello/Chubbuck Trustee Deanna Judy (photo: sd25.us)
Pocatello/Chubbuck Trustee Heather Clarke (photo: sd25.us)

She said a new building would need to be marketed as not just for Highland students, but for the whole community. And she said the district needed to show that it was doing all it could to minimize costs to the public, such as potentially securing donated land for a new school. 

Trustee Heather Clarke disagreed, and said she thought the survey was an appropriate way to gauge initial public sentiment, and added that there would be more opportunities to interact with the public going forward. 

District officials said there was “a sense of urgency” to make decisions; trustees will hold a special meeting Wednesday to further discuss the survey results. 

Going forward, district leaders said they plan to thoroughly communicate with stakeholders via public meetings about next steps. 

Highland students are on track to attend every day, in-person classes this fall 

A more immediate problem is how to ensure that Highland students can attend every day, in-person classes by the time school begins at the end of August. 

For now, the district is “on track” to make that happen, according to a recent news release. 

District officials are planning for students to return to Highland for classes on a traditional schedule, and crews are working to restore the building’s water, gas, and other major utility services. 

District leaders are also working with local churches and businesses to find alternative locations for athletics and extracurriculars. 

Ultimately, Howell said fully resolving complications from the fire will be a two- to four-year process, and there may be “feelings of fear, anxiety, confusion, frustration, and impatience,” during that time. 

“We ask that the community moves forward with the same spirit of patience, goodwill, and grace extended in the immediate aftermath of the event,” he wrote

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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