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Maeser School crisis over

PROVO — The wacky, 109-year-old tale of the overlooked 1898 deed has a happy ending, with a settlement that averts a potential crisis for the award-winning renovation of central Provo's historic Maeser School.

The heirs of Ed Loose dropped their claim to about 1 acre of land given a century ago by Loose to the Provo School District. In exchange, the title companies that failed to uncover Loose's two forgotten, handwritten deeds, will pay for a memorial outside the school.

Loose donated the land on one condition — it always remain a playground for the elementary school or be returned to his family.

The two title companies will pay $20,000 — up to $10,000 for the memorial to Loose and $10,000 for a scholarship fund and attorney fees.

Loose donated the land in two parts, one in 1898 and the other in 1910, with deeds both apparently in his own hand.

The school district closed Maeser Elementary School five years ago and nearly demolished the historic building. The nonprofit Provo Housing Authority rescued it from the wrecking ball three years ago by buying it and launching a drive to renovate it as affordable senior housing.

The creative mix of 14 grants and loans worth $5.2 million that financed the project could have unraveled when the deeds surfaced.

The funding came with conditions, too — not only would the renovation have to be completed, but a dozen homes had to be built around the school and sold to first-time homebuyers through a self-help affordable housing program.

Construction was under way when Loose's great-grandson, Ed Peterson, learned of the deeds, which didn't turn up in four separate searches conducted by First American Title Insurance Co. and Fidelity Title Insurance Co. The news stunned housing authority executive director Doug Carlson.

"It was a surprise and shock," Carlson said. "This came totally out of the blue. For a brief moment, I was fearful three years of hard work and several million dollars were in jeopardy."

Peterson, named for his great-grandfather, said the heirs wanted to protect what he called a "classy" renovation that has won six major awards for beauty, historic rehabilitation and city planning.

"I'm tickled pink by what they've done there," he said. "It's a marvelous public project. My great-grandfather would be proud of it."

Peterson said the .95 acres may have been worth up to $250,000. The nonprofit housing authority didn't have the money to buy it and had been told by the title insurance companies the land was clear of any encumbrances.

"This is why you buy title insurance," Carlson said. "The money we spent in title insurance policies was money well spent."

The Maeser School Apartments opened in November and now has clear title. So do Jose and Meagan Sanchez, whose new home sits on a corner of the land Loose donated.

Construction on the final seven homes around the former school can now begin. They must be completed by next summer to meet a deadline for funding all of the projects.

The Charles Edwin Loose and Mary Jane Loose Memorial at Maeser School will be a plaza with a sandstone plaque bearing the images of the colorful Loose, present as a 12-year-old when the Golden Spike was driven in Utah, and his wife.

Peterson said $5,000 will go to a scholarship fund in his father's name, Edwin L. Peterson, at Utah State University. The scholarship is presented each year to a student who wants to teach geography, as Loose's grandson did at USU.

The final $5,000 goes to one of the heirs to cover attorney's fees.

First American Title and Fidelity Title will each contribute $10,000, according to a copy of the settlement obtained by the Deseret Morning News.

First American Title officials declined to talk about the Maeser/Loose deed specifically, but it isn't unusual for a title search to stop short of exploring back 100 years, company vice-president and regional counsel Blake Heiner said.

Loose's condition that if the playground was removed the property would be returned to his family — called a right of reverter — is extremely rare.

"I would have to say, in my 30 years in this business, this is the first time I've seen a right of reverter anywhere but in a law school exam," Heiner said. "These type of things don't happen in today's world."

Many neighbors were angry to lose the school park, but efforts to build the required new homes elsewhere failed. Major Provo parks sit three and four blocks away from the former school.

Carlson said the public is invited to enjoy the Loose Plaza.