Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Work continues on converting Maeser School into senior apartments in Provo, along with construction of a single-family housing unit in the foreground.

PROVO — A film crew shot video Thursday for a glossy national television spot on the award-winning effort to convert a 108-year-old Provo landmark from an elementary school into an apartment complex for low-income active seniors.

The Maeser School Apartments project is one of 12 preservation projects selected to receive a $50,000 grant and be featured in a 30-second spot on HGTV by cable network's Restore America initiative, a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Each project's feature will run for one month on HGTV, beginning in October.

No decision has been made on when the Maeser spot will air, but neighbors and project managers hope by then they'll have solved a thorny problem that threatens to sabotage the project.

Maeser caught the eye of the network and the National Trust because of the school's character and the creative way local groups cobbled together a dozen funding sources, but those groups are now worried that an overlooked deed issued in 1898 could unravel more than just the Maeser deal.

The deed, written by Col. Ed Loose, decreed that the land Loose gave to the Provo School District should remain a park forever or be returned to his family.

The deed is a big problem for the Provo Housing Authority, the Rural Development Agency and Neighborhood Housing Services. The groups are sharing a $524,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle. If any of the groups fails to meet a June 2007 deadline for their projects, all the money will be lost.

For neighbors who want a park on the Maeser property, the deed is the miracle of Col. Loose, resurrecting hope of open space in an area with parks on its edges — across what neighbors say are major streets that act as barriers.

None of that was an issue Wednesday and Thursday when HGTV producer Gary Beaton and his crew filmed inside and around the Maeser School and conducted interviews.

"It's a terrific project," Beaton said. "It's really impressive to see in person the character of the building. It's very inspiring."

The partnership between HGTV and the National Trust began four years ago and for two years focused on famous sites like Mark Twain's house and Abraham Lincoln's cottage. The past two years have been about community revitalization and preservation.

More than 100 applications were filed this year.

"Maeser stood out," Beaton said. "Preservation's important on every level, but it's not just about saving structures for posterity or for a museum. It's about an adapted re-use that helps people and helps communities gain strength."

Doug Carlson, director of the Provo Housing Authority, the nonprofit organization renovating the school, said his attorney has filed notices with two title insurance companies and with the Provo School District over the deed. He has not had a chance to meet with Loose's heirs.

Carlson said the grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank is contingent on 31 apartments in the Maeser School and 43 single-family units in Provo's pioneer, or central, neighborhoods. The Maeser project includes an entire block, with the Rural Development Agency building 12 homes on the land around it.

Most of the neighbors want the homes because they want the stabilizing influence in a central neighborhood of a number of new families. Some want all 12 families on the Maeser block while others hope to persuade the Rural Development Agency to build only eight or nine homes on the block and find a few other lots in the central neighborhoods to meet its quota, said Michael Horito, who lives in the area.

That would leave some space for a park, but finding other quality lots isn't easy, Carlson said, and Horito admitted the switch would cost more money for nonprofit agencies.

A compromise would appear to be the best solution, but the complexity of the preservation deal and the looming deadline are major complicating factors. Carlson is worried it could take too long to deal with the deed issues and too difficult to find quality, affordable replacement lots to make a solution simple.

Meanwhile, HGTV's Beaton was focused on the deal that saved the Maeser School, which he called a neighborhood treasure.

"There's something about it character-wise that makes me flash back to my own school days as a kid," he said. "It's in the same kind of idyllic setting, and it just feels like neighborhood. It's a neighborhood treasure, and I feel it being a magnet for the community."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com