Highland High to open in the fall, but long-term plans are undecided

POCATELLO — Highland High School students in Pocatello will be able to attend class in the fall. The ultimate fate of the building, however, remains in question.

At a special planning meeting on Wednesday night, trustees decided that the best option would be decided by the community — first with a survey and ultimately, with a bond vote.

“A bond is the direction we’re headed,” Pocatello-Chubbuck superintendent Doug Howell said during the meeting. “We’ll continue to tease out details in meetings, so we can include more detail in the survey. We need to be completely transparent with our priorities and longer term goals.”

The picture grew a bit clearer after last week’s indecision. Business manager Jonathan Balls and architects from Bateman-Hall and Design West helped present a more lucid report.

Less than three months after the devastating fire, Balls stated that power, water and gas are restored and functional at Highland High School. With cleaning finished and painting underway, undamaged parts of the building are scheduled to be in usable shape when classes begin in the fall.

Though fire destroyed the school’s primary gym, Highland still retains its lightly-damaged small gym. Balls said that the space should be functional by early September.

Architects assert that long-term solutions are likely three years from completion — one for design and two more for construction. Seven options are on the table with various levels of replacement for a cafeteria, kitchen, main gym, possible expansion to add an auditorium and to repurpose parking. These options will all be affected with how or even if the existing building is used.

Trustees are still focused on choosing from three choices: one, rebuild and restore Highland as a high school, and use the situation as an opportunity to add necessary amenities like more parking. This leads to a second choice: purchasing adjacent land to improve the high school campus. A third option is to convert the institution into a middle school or large elementary. This could help alleviate overcrowding and lead to a brand new high school.

The issue with all of these is funding.

There will be insurance money to contribute to a rebuild. Though the investigation is ongoing, the fire was accidental and there will be some sort of reimbursement, Balls asserted.

District officials faced the fact that the rest of necessary finances will need to come from a bond. Problem is, that requires two-thirds supermajority support. In order for Pocatello-Chubbuck to see through its vision, it will need to convince two in every three voters that the bond is a necessary component to education.

“If a November bond doesn’t pass, you’re looking at May and then you’re another year out,” trustee Heather Clark said. “We need to be certain it’s gonna go through or else we’re risking displacing an entire high school class.”

This is why officials plan to survey residents on what they think should be done — soon. Survey results must be collected, sorted and folded into a workable plan. Then, officials may have a month or so to write a bond. Ballot language needs to be submitted to the county by Sept. 18 for the November election.

Matt Denis

Matt Denis

Reporter Matt Denis is based in the Treasure Valley and has served as an educator and a journalist. Prior to national digital reporting and founding an arts and culture section in Eugene, Oregon, Matt worked as an English and history teacher in Detroit, San Diego, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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