PROVO — The future of the historic Maeser School, which was shuttered by Provo school chiefs in 2002, is once again in limbo.

While the former public school is no longer in danger of falling victim to the wrecking ball, residents are at odds over the best plan for the building and its grounds.

The Provo City Council has delayed a decision on the property's zoning in hopes of reaching a solution more pleasing to the neighborhood.

The property is owned by the Provo Housing Authority, which has worked for more than two years to find funding to purchase the property, turn the old school into low-income housing for the elderly and build 12 family homes on the surrounding property. But before the project begins, the housing authority is requesting a zoning change from PF — which stands for public facility — to a specially created zone specific to the nature of the project.

On Tuesday, the Provo City Council put a decision about the property's zoning on hold for two weeks because residents at the meeting said they may have found a solution they like better: investor York Galland's offer to buy the property and start a private school.

Those residents said they prefer to have a school on the property. They also hope the green space around the school is preserved, too.

"I think what has happened is now that Provo Housing Authority's plans are drawing to a close, people have finally realized that they're going to lose the green space and all of a sudden realized that they didn't want that to happen, if possible," said Maria Winden, who lives in the neighborhood. "So they've been trying to come up with ways to keep the school and keep the green space both."

Galland, a former resident of the neighborhood, said his main focus is preserving the building's historical use. Maeser Elementary School, 150 S. 500 East, was built in 1898 and designed by Richard C. Watkins, one of the most prolific architects in central Utah.

The school was named after prominent educator Karl G. Maeser.

"It is a legacy to Karl Maeser," he said. "I think to take the interior of that school and basically gut it, and change the interior of that school, would be a crime."

Provo Housing Authority Director Doug Carlson agreed to negotiate with Galland but noted that the housing authority has a lot of funding at stake.

"Currently, our financial package includes 12 different resources to finance the project," Carlson said. "In gathering these resources we have established relationships, made agreements, and even, in some cases, signed contracts with these funders."

Carlson said any offer to buy the property would have to account for those costs, but even then, the city housing authority would have to pay a non-monetary price for its failure to follow through.

"For us to sell the project now would be detrimental to the housing authority in possible loss of working relationship with those funders who have worked so hard, and in good faith, for this project," he said.

In addition, projects that would have created 43 homes for first-time homebuyers would not be completed, because the funding was contingent on the Maeser project, Carlson said.

One resident at the meeting compared the project to an engagement, saying the neighborhood needs to do what is best, even if that means dealing with the cost of broken agreements.

Resident Kathy Jackson pointed out that green space is connected to the quality of life in the area.

"I ask that you remember that once green space is lost, it cannot be regained," she said. "These issues are tied to the quality of life. I ask that you think of what will be best for the neighborhood, and for the city."

Another resident who didn't attend the meeting said there are some who feel the housing authority project would be better for the neighborhood.

"Right now, it's a vacant lot, it's not a park," said Stephanie Booth. "I think that Provo Housing has an excellent plan for making that block a beautiful place to live. We're getting what we want — we're saving the building and getting great new neighbors."

Carlson said as of Friday, he had given a figure to Galland's financial advisers and has not yet received an offer. Galland made his first official offer on the property and building last week. It was rejected by the housing authority because it wasn't large enough to recoup costs.

Carlson said that even if Galland does turn the property into a private school, the grounds will not be public. He said he wants to do what's best for the community.

"We're not trying to cram something down the community's throat that we don't sincerely believe is in the best interest of the community," he said.


E-mail: mdecker@desnews.com