Pocatello trustees continue to weigh options for rebuilding fire-damaged school

After a fire compounded issues at Pocatello’s already-dated Highland High, making it viable again has become a daunting task — especially after voters denied a $45 million bond that would’ve helped restore and improve the school. 

Pocatello/Chubbuck trustees are considering running another ballot measure, but want to prove they’ve done all they can to drop the price tag and find other solutions first.

At a board meeting Tuesday, trustees discussed how they could reduce a potential ask, with options ranging from seeking corporate sponsorships to selling unused land.

And they discussed what would happen if a second bond ask failed, or if they tried to rebuild with just insurance monies — an option some taxpayers, including newly-elected Trustee Raymond Knoff, have pushed for. 

But insurance would only cover restoring the 1960s-era school as it was, with the exception of some updates to adhere to modern building codes. The new updates, including incorporating ADA accessibility, are needed but would cause complications — like rendering obsolete a downstairs weight room that could only be accessed via stairs. 

“We’ll just have another Band-aid solution if we just replace with insurance,” Trustee Heather Clarke said. 

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

Knoff, who has previously advocated for using the insurance money to rebuild and giving taxpayers a break, was silent during the discussion. 

By late March, trustees will have to make a decision about whether to go to voters in May, and how much to ask for if so. They’ll also have to decide whether to request financing for improvements to Century High’s gyms, as they did with the first bond ask. 

Their conversations on how to restore the school come as Gov. Brad Little is pushing for lawmakers to invest $2 billion in school facilities statewide over the next decade. Wednesday, he made an appearance at Highland to tout his ideas and highlights from his State of the State address.

For now, students are learning in a cramped building, and traveling off campus for classes and practices that have been outsourced to churches and Idaho State University. Even if a bond measure passed in May, a restored and improved school would be years away from completion. 

In the foreground of Tuesday’s conversation about a path forward was a recently-released architectural analysis that found Highland to be uninviting and in need of improvement, primarily due to its age. 

The Design West report, which was conducted in August, listed a number of issues, including:

  • Uninviting environment: The high school is lacking when it comes to a “vibrant, engaging educational experience,” the report found. “More could be done to create more inspiring learning places especially, in the classrooms, using colors, materials, and finishes to create a more welcoming and engaging environment.”
  • Undersized auditorium: The auditorium is undersized and “any attempt to enlarge (it) would probably prove to be impractical.” Plus its stage and control booth needed to be improved. “The design at present is austere, with very old beyond life cycle finishes,” the report found. 
  • Lack of ADA accessibility: Certain parts of the building are not ADA accessible which “can expose the district to lawsuits since it is considered a civil right legislation and not simply a code issue.”
  • Asbestos risk: Some of the school’s older tile may have asbestos.
  • Small, outdated, and ‘extremely old’: The school has limited storage space; small janitorial spaces; an outdated counseling center; and science rooms that are “extremely old with inadequate millwork for a science curriculum”; whiteboards and bulletin boards that are “very old and should be replaced”.
  • Questionable roof: A roof that may “become overstressed during a significant snow event,” and “may not survive a seismic event.” 

“There’s a huge need here,” Trustee Deanna Judy said Tuesday. “I feel like this report … shows that need really dramatically.”

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

To address it, “our first choice is not to tax,” Judy said, before floating the idea of seeking donations and sponsorships. “I want to show that we are doing everything we can” before resorting to another ballot measure.

No decisions were made at the meeting, and trustees plan to continue talks at coming work sessions.

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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