PROVO — John Uibel counts himself among the folks who may soon uproot and flee a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood that considers a 101-year-old elementary school the heart of the community.

Uibel, who lives across the street from the 101-year-old Maeser Elementary School, is angry with a decision by the Provo City Board of Education to close the school and shuttle children away from the historic building to a new multimillion-dollar school in southeast Provo.

His fear, really, is the unknown.

What will happen with the school, the lifeblood of the neighborhood? Will it be torn down or sold? Will the district use the building for at-risk teen programs?

And, perhaps more importantly to the people who moved into the neighborhood in recent years, will the district's vote to move the school away from 500 East put a stake in the heart of slow-but-steady efforts to turn the area away from blocks of rental units with transient residents to well-cared-for family homes?

"The school district is completely out of touch with what's going on in the central city," said Charles Callis, who lives in inner-city Provo.

Residents such as Ryan Marshall say a school is seen as a stabilizing force. He thinks people won't live in the area if children playing tag are replaced by troubled teens in alternative programs.

"Who will put their house on the market? I'll start right here," said Uibel at a meeting this week called by residents and form a strategy and ask Provo's Mayor Lewis Billings and City Council to listen to their pleas.

Provo's City Council may hold the key for Maeser's continued existence at the current site. The district can build at the site of the old jail in Ironton only if Provo agrees to a proposed land deal.

Provo's school board wants Provo to trade about 4 acres the district owns near Bicentennial Park for a parcel in Ironton of a similar size.

Then, to guarantee enough space to build a school with a large playground, the district would buy an extra 3 acres at the jail site with money from a 1997 $22.5 million general-obligation bond issuance.

If the land-swap proposal isn't approved by the council, then the district must choose another site. And the current Maeser site was one of the options debated by the school board for the new school.

Mossi White, school board president, said the board leaned toward the Ironton site because enrollment projections show the majority of the school's student body will come from the southeast side.

Plus, Maeser's playground and parking lot are small.

"The fact is, over the years we have received so many complaints on the age of this school," she said.

Funding crunches discount suggestions to keep Maeser open — at the same time the new school opens — if the board builds in Ironton, she said.

Provo already is dealing with a shortfall in funds for teaching positions because of declining enrollment.

"You don't have the numbers in (the Maeser) neighborhood to have a school," she said.

White dismisses rumor-mill chatter that the district wants to use the old Maeser building for a parole center or juvenile detention. She can't say, though, what will be housed there. The board has not yet decided what it wants to do.

"We have no parolees on our staff. We have no criminals on our staff," she said. "It will be used for education programs for children."

Billings, whose administration plans to spend about $1 million in block grants to improve city neighborhoods, maintains a neutral stance in the debate between residents and the school board.

Billings, though, does say he wants the use of the building to be "compatible" with the neighborhood.

"This is a tough decision," he said. "There's no way for the school board to do it and be popular.

"Regardless of the decision that has been made, we have to go forward and make this city and the neighborhoods the best ever."

As for the next step, some plan to attend the June 6 council meeting to speak against the land swap with hope the school board will be forced back to the table.

"At this stage in the game," Marshall said. "I want (the council) to carefully consider the ramifications of yanking the elementary school from our neighborhood."