PROVO — The clock is ticking.

It's the 11th hour for Maeser Elementary School, the two-story landmark that has stood tall on 500 East for 102 years.

A grass-roots effort to save the historic building so far has not been able to curtail a date with the wrecking ball.

Members of Provo City School District's Board of Education decided last month to tear down the brownstone building.

The scheduled demolishing can only be derailed if a tenant is found by July 15. Lease applicants must have enough cash for a $300,000 safety renovation and a $100,000 yearly rent.

Board members agreed to hear a last-minute proposal in June. Sid Sandberg, a former Utah County commissioner, asked the board to allow a proposal to be made.

Sandberg declined to reveal more, saying the proposal has not been finalized. Financing also has not been secured.

"Our first hurdle is to save the building from demolition," said Sandberg. "Hurdle No. 2 is to convince interested parties that a need in the community can be met by using the building for something else other than an elementary school." School chiefs pledged to build a replacement for Maeser — which has faulty wiring, bad plumbing and a temperamental furnace, according to the school's Web site — when voters approved a $22.5 million bond issuance in 1997.

The bond was issued to pay for construction and upgrades for several schools in the 13,000-student urban district.

The central-city block will remain district property and will be turned into a park. The land is not for sale right now, said Greg Hudnall, a school district administrator.

"We receive calls from developers all the time," said Hudnall.

Hudnall, who led a neighborhood group in a study to find uses for the building after the doors closed, said the district has received several inquiries about the building.

Few of the groups asking about the building have enough money to fund the safety upgrade and yearly lease, however.

And the neighborhood — and zoning codes — frown on new apartments or condos on the land.

"I keep telling people, 'Put your money where your mouth is,' " said Hudnall about ideas pitched to save the building.

Provo's Landmarks Commission is the most recent outspoken critic of the plans to raze the school.

The commission considers Maeser school one of Provo's five most important city landmarks.

The school district's unique legal status as a state agency exempts it from city code regarding landmarks, which requires owners of landmarks to receive permission from the commission before ordering demolition.

"It would be a tragedy of unimaginable proportions for the very organization we trust with educating our children to casually destroy one of the icons of our city's heritage," the commission wrote in a recent letter to the board. "It may be neither convenient nor easy to assure a future for Maeser school, but it is certainly important."

But most members of the school board say their hands are tied. In an era of sluggish funding and dwindling enrollments, the district struggles to pay its bills with the current number of schools. The district can't afford to keep Maeser open while also paying to operate Spring Creek, they say.

The board entertained lease several applications but rejected the offers because they were deemed too low, and the district, as the property owners, would have had to pay repair and liability costs if lights malfunctioned or the boiler erupted.

"All of them had great ideas, but no one had the money," said Hudnall.

Cris Lott admires the architecture of the building every day as she shepherds children across streets to Maeser's campus.

"I can't believe they are going to tear it down," said Lott, whose father attended the school, which originally cost less than $9,000.

"I think this neighborhood is going to lose," she said, glancing across the shady street to a group of students waiting for her to help them across the road.

"When was this built? In 1889? And they are going to tear it down. I think that's sad."

So the clock ticks.

"It's daunting," said Sandberg, who holds no ill will toward school board members, all of whom studied and debated the financial and historical issues surrounding the school's closure.

"There's maybe one chance in 1,000 all the pieces will come together," he said. "But we have to make some effort to preserve the building."

Eight weeks remain before the board's deadline to find a suitable tenant expires. Fifty-six days.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.


E-MAIL: jeffh@desnews.com