BOISE -- A mid-century school bursting at the seams is facing a new fate. It's another sign of the times, with Highlands Elementary School in Boise the latest in the battle to preserve the city's past.
Voters approved a bond for the Boise School District in 2017 as apart of the district's 10-year facility master plan. School district spokesman Dan Hollar says 86 percent of voters approved the bond that included 22 capital projects - one of which being to rebuild or renovate Highlands Elementary.
"We audited every single school in the Boise School District and when we looked at all the elementary schools, number two on the list as far as very poor condition was Highlands Elementary School," Hollar said.
But it's whether they decide to rebuild or remodel that's drawing mixed opinions right now.
The building has been serving kids in the Highlands area, nestled in the foothills of Boise, for almost 60 years. Many are calling on the district to keep the bones of the building and preserve its character and remodel the school.
"I would prefer a remodel, I guess to preserve the history of the neighborhood. And to not maybe have such a concrete looking structure that might occur if we rebuilt," one parent, Kathi Pearce, said. "The time it was built is in keeping with the way things were built then. And I just think it fits in with the neighborhood."
Others say there are a lot of issues with the school, so tearing it down and starting new is the best option.
"I understand where they're coming from but I don't support it. I think a new building would be better," another parent, Dan Copple said. "It's old. It needs a lot of work to get it up to a modern school. It's got a lot of limitations."
"They're in love with a building that's not that neat; it's old, it's dated, it's non-functional," Copple added.
Either way, parents, the community and district officials say it's about creating the best educational environment for students and staff.
"Whether you rebuild or remodel it's going to be significantly better than what we have now," Copple said.
"I want to do what's best for the students and support the faculty," Pearce added.
The district recognizes the building and its contribution to the neighborhood is appreciated by the community, families and staff.
"We understand that it's a community asset and we want to make sure that we protect that too. Either way - whether it's a renovation or a rebuild - the main message here for us is that students are going to be better served," Hollar told KTVB.
A Boise School District survey closed last week that asked for input on whether people would like to see a tear down and total rebuild of the 57-year-old structure or a revamp and renovation.
"It has seen better days from the standpoint of its use," Hollar added. "There's advantages and disadvantages for both."
Hollar tells KTVB the school district will consider all responses and the results of the survey feedback, particularly input from Highlands Elementary School families and neighbors, while also considering a number of other key aspects, such as educational adequacy, space efficiency, and traffic flow (parking, student drop-off, buses).
"We'll also take into account other factors, too, like energy efficiency of either renovation or rebuild; budget limitations; safety, certainly, from the standpoint of the design of the school. the ability to provide a safe and secure learning environment for students and staff. And we'll take into account preservation aspects, whether we can preserve a number of items based on the original structure itself," Hollar added.
Thirty years ago, there were 215 students attending Highlands Elementary. Today, there are 315 students, proof that the area is growing.
"We have really inadequate storage from the standpoint of what our teachers need in order to offer the first-rate program we want them to offer," Hollar told KTVB. "We're using every inch of space."
There are four portables in use outside, an indication there's not enough space inside the structure. A small, dark multi-purpose room serves as a cafeteria, gymnasium, auditorium, and storage/office space for the physical education department. The school had to do away with the stage that was once a centerpiece of the auditorium in order to build a parent room and speech, language pathology room.
Because of a serious lack of storage space at Highlands Elementary School, the school has had to resort to putting things like art supplies, pianos, a refrigerator, music stands, and a lost-and-found in the few hallways that span the building.
"We're sort of bursting at the seams, so to speak, as far as the need of more space," Hollar added
A preliminary analysis by the contracted construction company shows it will take 12 months to build a new school and is within the district's budget, while remodel and expansion of the existing school will take a minimum of 14 months and would be a little more expensive.
But proponents of mid-century preservation feel it's important Boise hangs on to this piece of our past.
"There's actually lineage here and there's stories to tell and history that's part of our culture and our fabric. I think as we take those away we start to lose that identity," owner of Mid-Century Homes by Moniker Real Estate, TJ Pierce, said. "We do something different with the school, we lose part of that story, we lose part of the character of what makes these areas unique."
Pierce says Boise is losing a lot of its mid-century architecture, and the Highlands school is a great piece of work that mid-century enthusiasts find intriguing. He says buildings constructed in the 1950s and 1960s are officially considered historic, so debate surrounding buildings like this are on the forefront of a newer conversation.
"I think Boise has a statement to make in how they handle things moving forward. Whether or not we're going to pay close and careful attention to what's pre-existing and work within the context of that, or if we are going to make everything look very similar from one structure to the next to the next," Pierce added.
The Boise School District is currently evaluating the results of the Highlands project survey and will decide the best option for students in April. They're aiming to break ground June 2019 and open the school a year later. During construction, kids will be bussed to school at Fort Boise for about a year.