The Lewiston School Board heard a presentation from the Idaho Housing Company on the possibility of turning the former Lewiston High School into affordable housing units.
No action was taken on the proposal at Monday’s meeting, but discussion was tabled to a December meeting.
Erin Anderson of the Idaho Housing Company talked to the board by phone to present preliminary plans for the site. The company adapts and reuses historic sites for affordable housing. The group would also receive a tax credit because it provides affordable housing and another tax credit for the preserving the historic building.
“We get excited about historic adaptive reuse projects because they mean so much to the community,” Anderson said.
The site could be turned into 30 to 40 one- or two-bedroom units with rent between $500-$800, depending on the size. Properties the company works with have been donated or purchased at prices far below the estimated value. The site would also be paying property tax based on its status as affordable housing.
The Boys and Girls Club of the Lewis Clark Valley purchased the eastern portion of the former campus last year. Anderson said that sale won’t affect the use of affordable housing. In fact, having the Boys and Girls Club next door could be a positive factor if families move into the housing units.
School Board Vice President Brad Cuddy, who was leading the meeting because President Brad Rice was absent, said it was the first time the board was listening to the proposal and no decisions were being made. He wanted to look at the costs of maintaining and using the facility by the district as well as where the people who are currently located in the building would go. Currently, the building houses a variety of district employees and community groups.
However, he liked the historic preservation aspect of the proposed project. “There are a lot of heart strings attached to that high school,” he said. “We have a duty to the taxpayer to maximize the value of what we do with that.”
Anderson said one of the biggest projects for the company if it were to renovate the space would be the theater, which is a priority for preservation. The Lewiston Civic Theatre currently uses the auditorium for its productions, but Anderson said the space could still be used depending on the plans for the building.
Another hurdle would be inside spaces like the cafeteria and library, which don’t have windows and natural light; providing enough parking; and rezoning the property through the city.
Superintendent Lance Hansen said the building will be appraised soon, which will give the board more information on how to best proceed with the proposal. Hansen recommended the board go into executive session at its December meeting to discuss the value of the property as well as work out the cost of owning and maintaining the building and what it could generate for property taxes. Cuddy also said to include plans for the people currently located in the building before the board adopts any plan for the site.
The board also heard from Kim Eimers, director of student services, who updated the board on the cultural competency and inclusion report, which was a resolution adopted by the board Aug. 10, 2020. Public statements about the resolution regarding marginalized groups are displayed in all schools, and language against hate speech and symbols are included in the student handbook and discipling code. Teachers also must receive cultural competency training, to be completed by Dec. 11.
The district also changed its anonymous tip line from WeTip to See Tell Now. The new site is also available as an application on Android and iPhones and will be promoted on the district website, Facebook pages and in the schools.
Brewster may be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 848-2297