PROVO — Provo school officials fear a vacant school is becoming a popular nocturnal haunt.

But it's not the ghost of Karl G. Maeser raising hackles.

The school named after the former president of Brigham Young University has stood empty since a new school for neighborhood children opened this fall and is attracting vandals, pranksters and teenagers seeking a place to party.

The school district wants to curb the after-dark activities before Maeser gains the same reputation as Academy Square prior to its $22 million makeover into a stately city library.

Liquor bottles littered the grounds of the old BYU Academy before its renovation. It also was widely rumored that cults performed rites on altars at the boarded-up building on University Avenue.

Greg Hudnall, Provo's student-services director, said the situation at Maeser isn't that dramatic or extreme. Stories about used condoms and beer bottles are exaggerated, he said.

Windows are being pelted with rocks at an alarming rate, however. At least 50 have been broken by vandals, he said.

"We're just boarding up and putting up plastic so the pigeons can't get in," said Hudnall, who takes a daily tour of the school at 150 S. 500 East to spot graffiti and count broken windows or doors. Asked how many times intruders had set off the alarm system, Hudnall responded with a sigh: "Too many."

He estimates dozens of break-ins.

"As many as we've had we're going to have to step up our effort to keep it safe," said Hudnall, who said he hasn't received complaints from neighbors about the boards over the windows.

The alarm, installed when Maeser closed as an elementary school, doesn't wail when tripped. Instead, a signal is sent to police dispatchers, who send squad cars to investigate.

Six teenagers have been nabbed for trespassing, Hudnall said.

Officials are unsure if anything of value has been stolen.

Before the school closed, valuable artifacts were given to Brigham Young University. Tables, desks and chairs were given to other schools.

"I don't think they've taken anything valuable," he said.

School officials plan to use a few Maeser classrooms for adult English-as-a-second-language courses a few nights a week, in part to correct the impression that the school is empty and unguarded.

Security detail at Maeser may be short-lived because it will be torn down if a viable tenant — plus $300,000 for renovations — is not found by December.

Those who love the stately school, which was the oldest operating school in Utah at the time of its closure, are scrambling to raise the renovation money and find a tenant.

The Friends of Maeser Foundation, founded to raise money for Maeser's preservation, has $3,600 in cash and has received about $12,000 in pledges — far short of the amount needed.

The foundation is preparing to send out letters and put up "Don't Erase Maeser" signs on busy roads to spur interest.

"When all is said and done, I don't think people want the building to come down," said Kena Mathews, one of the foundation's organizers.

Finding a tenant is a high priority, says Kirk Huffaker, community services director of the Utah Heritage Foundation, which is helping to preserve the building.

"Even if the money was raised they could still tear it down because they could say there isn't a tenant," he said.


E-MAIL: jeffh@desnews.com