Photo by Les Stukenberg.
Originally Published: January 17, 2018 6 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.”
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.
“It’s certainly sad for all of us in Prescott Unified School District,” said Superintendent Joe Howard. “There were a lot of great memories there — and those memories will last forever — but the world changes. We’ve all had to make big sacrifices and changes in this school district, and that was one of them.”
Dickens Quality Demolition LLC in Phoenix began tearing down the buildings on Monday to the surprise of even Howard and fellow school leaders who knew the demolition was coming, but did not have exact dates. Howard’s cellphone and email were filled with messages of lament that the historic part of the building, erected in 1916, had become a pile of rubble.
In September, the Governing Board finalized the $3.8 million sale of the school, one of three properties the community in 2015 had agreed to sell to accommodate enrollment decreases.
“We knew it was going to be a hot potato,” said J.T. Purvis, a principal with Commercial Properties Northern Arizona, hired to market and sell those properties.
The buyer, Ironline Partners in Phoenix, is clearing the land for future redevelopment.
Ironline principal Mozan Shawaludin said the decision to demolish all of the buildings was reached based on financial and environmental practicalities, particularly the considerable amount of asbestos removal required on the property. Inquiries were made on whether the school could be relocated, but it was deemed cost prohibitive, he said.
“Progress moves forward,” Purvis said. “The whole reason it sold was because it was obsolete, inefficient and there was no way to salvage it … It was not an economically viable investment.”
But over the year it took to complete all the sales, no public comment was presented to the board. No historic preservationists stepped forward prior to the sale to suggest how to save the original structure, built in 1916.
As part of the sales negotiation, board members asked Ironline principals to consider whether it might be able to save any of the original brick building. No guarantees were given, however, and the sale was approved with an agreement to allow demolition of part, or all, of the main structure and the additions.
After the sale, some of those involved with painting the mural on the side of the building asked if that wall might be preserved, but the developers said that was not possible.
Purvis said he visited the property last week and removed some desks, chairs, doorknobs and other fixtures that could be used by the district’s remaining schools.
Once demolition started, Purvis said he heard some folks wanted to collect some of the bricks. Safety measures will likely dictate whether that can be done.
Ironline Partners Principal Tim O’Neil said efforts are being made to salvage some of the historic trees, and if there are bricks or portions that can be safely salvaged, he said his team is open to such a request.
“We’ll see what we can do,” O’Neil said.
As for what the property will become in the future, O’Neil said no firm plan has been reached though there has been interest in the property, and once the area is cleared he and his team will conduct tours for potential developers. He said he sees the property as an ideal, mixed-use parcel: retail, office and residential.
The one rumor Ironline tried to dispel early on in its negotiations was any plans to build a drug rehabilitation center. O’Neil said he has not been approached about such a project, nor have they solicited any such proposals.
Ironline’s team have roots in Prescott, and O’Neil was clear that all of them intend to create a development that will be welcome in the community. He said they are now working on a brand for the site.
Miller Valley’s last principal, Jeff Lane, now a district grants administrator, said he carries with him lots of great memories from his eight years at the school, which, he said, was a home away from home for many Prescott families over the 99 years it operated as a school.
“I know this is the next step of selling the property so we have to go on with that, but it doesn’t make it any less sad,” Lane said.