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Provoans hope to buy old school

Group doesn’t like district’s plans for Maeser building

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PROVO — Kayla Lamoreaux says she's starting to see the future of her historic, tree-lined neighborhood. And, to her, it isn't pretty.

She's noticing more "For Sale" signs. Yet, she also hears that prospective buyers are turning away from homes in the historic, downtown area.

Lamoreaux believes the reason for the change in the neighborhood — a part of Provo's inner city that turned into neat rows of owner-occupied homes instead of untidy rental units — is the imminent closure of Maeser Elementary School.

Controversy has swirled since last month when the Provo Board of Education voted to shuttle children from Maeser to a new school in southeast Provo. Residents fret that the district's plans for the 101-year-old building won't enhance the residential neighborhood.

Residents opposed to the school's closure have a plan.

Fearful that the Provo district will centralize programs for at-risk teens and low-income families at Maeser, residents such as Lamoreaux are urging the district to sell the block where the school stands to a neighborhood redevelopment group.

"The only way to revitalize the neighborhood is to encourage new families to move in," she said.

She added that the redevelopment group, which she did not name, was interested in a project that could result in up to 24 new homes on the four-acre block.

"As a board you're going to leave a legacy," she said. "Put the social programs in there and watch them deteriorate" the neighborhood.

She requested that the board, which opted not to comment on the proposal Tuesday, discuss the issue at next month.

The board seemed taken aback at the proposal, considering members decided last month to form a task force that would recommend which programs will be housed at the school.

The committee consists of seven residents, five district staffers and two PTA leaders. Two professors from Brigham Young University will work as consultants.

For now, district officials say the building could be used for teacher training, literacy tutoring centers, high school courses for adults and teen mothers, a resource center for parents and a program for year-round students who are off-track.

Provo had hoped to operate a "community enrichment center" for struggling families at Maeser. A $500,000 grant that would have paid for the program was not awarded to Provo district, however.

Greg Hudnall, student services director, said the district would be forced to sell the school and the land if residents oppose all of the programs that could be housed at the building. The district could not afford to maintain the building if state- or grant-funded programs weren't allowed there, he said.

The new school will be paid for with money from a 1997 $22.5 million general-obligation bond issue. It will be built on about seven acres in Ironton.

E-MAIL: jeffh@desnews.com