Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Maeser School will be refitted as seniors apartments. Twelve single-family homes also will be built on land.

PROVO — After two years on death row — and two close brushes with a wrecking ball — historic Maeser School has new life.

The two-story school will be refitted as an apartment complex for low-income, active seniors and the rest of the 3.69-acre property will be dotted with 12 single-family homes now that the Provo School District has finalized the sale of the building and land to the Provo Housing Authority for $750,000.

At one time, the asking price was $800,000 to $1.2 million.

"The exterior of the school will not change significantly," Housing Authority Director Doug Carlson said. "After we restore it, it's our intention to keep the building in operation in perpetuity. The building essentially will be brand-new inside and will last for decades."

School district officials closed the elementary school at 150 S. 500 East in 2002 and twice scheduled the building's demolition. They just never could quite pull the trigger, and finally found a buyer who agreed to save the building.

Even that required patience, as Carlson twice asked for extensions on the authority's option to purchase the property.

Neighbors wanted Maeser to continue to function as a school — especially to preserve the green space around it — but they gradually accepted the compromise that kept the landmark standing.

"Everyone unanimously agreed they wished the school district never closed it," said Maria Winden, who lives in the neighborhood surrounding Maeser. "But given the fact they did, we felt this was a good alternative.

"Everybody's glad the building could be saved," Winden said. "That was of paramount concern for everyone in the neighborhood. It's a beautiful building with a tremendous history. It was named for Karl G. Maeser and everyone has a soft spot for it."

Carlson said the housing authority, an independent government agency, is still raising money for the project, which includes the purchase of the school is estimated at $4.3 million.

Funds are expected to come from the sale of tax credits available for the preservation of buildings on the National Historic Register and from the sale of the home lots to a non-profit developer who will build and sell the homes.

Carlson expected construction to begin in December, and his goal is to have tenants move in by December 2005.

"We're excited about preserving such a historical treasure as Maeser," Carlson said, "and also facilitating affordable single-family housing that will hopefully help rejuvenate the Maeser neighborhood.

The school district plans to place the money from the sale into its ailing reserve fund, said Kerry Smith, the district's business administrator.

The Provo district is just emerging from a decade of deficits. Some might be used for building maintenance, another problem area for a district with a number of other aging schools.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com