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Dan Lund, for the Deseret Morning News
At Thursday's program, it was announced that a deal to save Maeser School included nine partners who put up nearly $1.3 million.

PROVO — Barbara Adams was 6 years old when she first walked through the doors of the Maeser School in central Provo.

It was 1933, but the Depression couldn't darken her days within the school's walls or outside on its lawns.

"I've been looking up at the building and pushing back tears because I remember so much love," Adams said Thursday after bankers from Seattle and Los Angeles joined Provo officials and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, to announce the finalization of a deal that will preserve the 106-year-old building for decades to come.

The announcement is the culmination of a four-year battle to save Maeser. The school, named for legendary educator Karl G. Maeser, was built in 1898 and nearly razed last year. The final deal includes nine partners who put up nearly $1.3 million in loans, grants and other funds to make the entire $4.3 million project work.

"I congratulate all of Provo because we have saved an important part of our past," Mayor Lewis Billings said.

The complex deal began with the idea of converting the school, 150 S. 500 East, into 32 low-income apartments for seniors. The initial proposal was to pay for the renovation by selling the open space around the school where Adams once played during recess for a new subdivision of 12 single-family homes.

To secure all the funding, however, Provo Housing Authority director Doug Carlson had to convince several other groups to join in and either build or refurbish an additional 40 single-family homes sprinkled around central Provo.

That brought together a coalition that includes the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle, Washington Mutual, the Bank of American Fork, the Rural Housing Development Corporation and several other groups.

All of the apartments and the majority of the single-family houses will be considered "affordable housing" units. Many of the homes are reserved for low-income, first-time homebuyers.

"This will provide more owner-occupancy, one of the things the city wants to happen," Billings said.

The project won over neighbors who initially wanted to see the building remain a school.

"I think everybody's thrilled with the senior housing going in," said Kurt Peterson, who lives two blocks north of the school. "They might have wished the rest of the block could have remained a park, but they realize the houses are an essential part of creating the project.

"Frankly, the school district neglected Maeser for too many years, but the classes were too small, and controlling the heating and air conditioning was a very difficult problem. The concern now is they build the right kind of houses that will fit in this neighborhood. I hope they'll take the time to pick the right designs."

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Carlson said the homes will be appropriate and that the Maeser School Apartments will salvage most of the building's exterior while overhauling the interior.

"You had the vision to use an old historic school and turn it into a new community asset," said Doris Koo, Western region director of The Enterprise Foundation, which encourages urban revitalization.

Adams, who now lives in affordable senior housing subsidized by the Provo Housing Authority, is pleased her memories will be preserved.

"I was worried at first," Adams said. "I thought, 'How can they tear down that building with all that history?' There's so much history behind those walls."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com