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Preservation, functionality can go together in Poky High remodel

May 12, 2019 GMT

Preservation Idaho, a 46-year old historic preservation non-profit, has worked on advocacy issues across the state for nearly 50 years. The basic challenge is often the same; the owner of a historic property wants to demolish or permanently change the building in what we would consider a “non-sympathetic” manner.

Our organization’s mission is to help property owners understand how preservation benefits communities both culturally and economically and in doing so, protects and preserves Idaho’s story.

Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 has publicized plans to alter the historic Pocatello High School which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. We understand and support the need to make the school ADA accessible and we appreciate that the School District’s priority is their students.


However, given what we understand about the design, there are concerns as to how this is being accomplished and we believe that there are better ways to achieve the District’s goals without damaging the building or its architectural and historic integrity.

Many historic buildings require modification to allow for ADA compliance, additional square footage, improved security, and other updates. These modifications can almost always be made in a way that preserves the important architectural features of the buildings.

Specifically, double ramps that are being planned at the front of the Art Deco building will permanently alter the historic façade while allowing access to only one part of the building and the renovation of the two existing 1939 entrances into a single center-entry point is inconsistent with the original architectural symmetry of the east elevation. These modifications will change the historic style of the building forever. An alternative design was presented that eliminated the need for the ramps.

Additionally, there is a concern with the two-story glass connector that is needed to provide classrooms, passage between buildings, and security for students. If the connector is required to be removable in order to access underground utilities, perhaps the design on the glass could be reflective of the historic façade of adjacent buildings rather than one of bright colors and designs that emphasize the modern glass structure itself.

This would allow for necessary additional square footage and security while minimizing the visual impact to the school’s historic buildings. A sympathetic remodel would also blend more harmoniously with historic Old Town Pocatello and all of the efforts being made there to retain Pocatello’s unique and appealing history and architecture.


Mayor Blad and Old Town Pocatello worked with Preservation Idaho to sign a letter urging retention of the Federal Historic Tax Credit Program in April of 2017. That program was saved and signing that letter showed that Pocatello understands and appreciates the importance and economic value of historic buildings.

We hope that the School District, the Pocatello Historic Preservation Commission, and Pocatello’s city government will apply that same understanding and support to plans for Pocatello High School.

We understand that many people in Pocatello like the proposed design and we appreciate the importance of public input on both sides. Our intention is to encourage the School District to give strong consideration for achieving its goals for the school while honoring and respecting the history of the building and downtown Pocatello.

Functionality and preservation can go hand-in-hand. With some thoughtful modifications of the current design, the beauty of this downtown landmark can be maintained and students will still get the amenities and services they need and deserve.

Preservation Idaho Board President Paula Benson wrote this column on behalf of Preservation Idaho.