Originally Published: January 17, 2018 6:02 a.m.
While the list of “wins” in Prescott’s historic preservation is extensive, one long-time preservation advocate maintains that this week’s demolition of the old Miller Valley Elementary School counts among the “losses.”
“You win some and lose some, and I think this is a big loss for Prescott,” Nancy Burgess, former historic preservation specialist for the City of Prescott, said of the razing of the school building located at the corner of Miller Valley and Iron Springs roads.
Burgess, who was instrumental throughout the late 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s in the city’s historic preservation movement, said Tuesday that the 102-year-old-school “was an important part of Prescott’s history, and Miller Valley’s history, and the school’s history.”
Still, current city officials say that, short of buying the property, the city had no authority to stop the demolition.
City Planning Manager George Worley noted Tuesday afternoon that while the city will have involvement in the plans for future development of the property, it did not have a say in the demolition, other than issuing an over-the-counter demolition permit.
That permit was issued on Jan. 3, Worley said, adding that, at that point, the city required no other documentation, such as plans for future development.
Cat Moody, the city’s current historic preservation specialist, said the 1916-era Miller Valley School was not listed on the National Register of Historic Places although it would have been eligible.
Burgess said she approached Prescott Unified School District around 20 years ago about the possible listing of the school property, and “They said no.”
While Lincoln and Washington schools are both within historic districts, Moody said Miller Valley School was isolated from any of Prescott’s historic districts, and would have had to be listed separately.
Such a listing would not have prevented the owners from demolishing the building, Moody said, but would have made it eligible for grant funds for restoration.
Indeed, Burgess says that an “adaptive reuse” of the main school building was the hope of historic preservation advocates in the community.
“I think people feared (demolition) would happen, but hoped the owners would find an adaptive reuse,” Burgess said, adding that the continuing hope for such an outcome was likely the reason that many in the community were surprised by this week’s demolition.
Worley said that while he had discussed possible reuse of the building with potential buyers over the years, none of those plans had come to fruition.
The reality of a demolished Miller Valley Elementary School on Tuesday prompted tears in many of those who either attended, taught or administered that school over the course of 99 years.
Among the ideas broached was renovation of the main school building to accommodate medical offices, Worley said, as well as possible uses as retail or a combination of residential and retail.
So far, Worley said, the city has received no official preliminary plans for what might replace the old school building.
One of the obstacles to retail use of the main school building reportedly was the swath of city-owned right-of-way that fronts the Miller Valley Road side of the property.
Worley pointed out that developers of retail projects often want a large parking area in front of the building – an option that wasn’t possible for the main Miller Valley School.
Meanwhile, he said the Boy Scout statue that sits in front of the school is located on the city-owned right-of-way, and he knows of no plans to remove the statue.
Officials have emphasized that the lead-up to the sale of the Miller Valley School building involved an extensive, multi-year public process. That process resulted in numerous articles in the Daily Courier, including an Oct. 1 article, which stated that the new owners, Ironline Partners, were planning a major demolition at the site.