PROVO Not even pleas from a sizable group of property owners that included professional football quarterback Steve Young could stop the Provo City Council from sealing the fate of Maeser Elementary School.
Some residents of the south-central Provo neighborhood said a measure taken by the council Tuesday night would spell doom for their already struggling neighborhood. Apparently, the issue was important enough for Young, whose future in the National Football League is being decided this week, to take time out to pen a letter that was read by his sister, Melissa Massey.
Young's letter asked the City Council to delay its decision until Maeser residents had more information about what uses the Provo School District had in mind for the century-old elementary school. Young, who reportedly could be moving from the San Francisco '49ers to the Denver Broncos, played at Brigham Young University from 1980 to 1983. He still lives in Provo during the off-season.
"The Maeser neighborhood means a lot to me," Young wrote. "I'm proud to own property in the Maeser neighborhood."
Last month, the Provo School Board decided to close Maeser Elementary and purchase property from the city to build a new school near the former Utah County Jail site in the southeast part of town. On Tuesday, the council provided the linchpin when it approved the sale and a land swap with the school district.
Provo will close early on a 6.5-acre portion of a 14.3-acre parcel it planned to purchase later this year from Utah County, which emptied its jail in southeast Provo two years ago in favor of a new one in Spanish Fork. Provo will purchase the 6.5 acres at about 1700 S. Nevada Ave. and Slate Canyon Drive for $90,000 per acre.
The city then will declare that property surplus and sell it to the school district for the same price, to be paid in cash and land.
In the end, Provo will get from the school district a 3.2-acre piece of property currently being used by the city as part of its Bicentennial Park.
But the deal has many residents who live near Maeser, located at 150 S. 500 East, wondering what will become of their school and their neighborhood.
Residents at the meeting, with children and strollers in tow, sported stickers that featured a colored bicycle and the words, "We love our Maeser neighborhood." A full house packed the council chambers; many of the residents had been alerted to the meeting by way of fliers distributed door-to-door.
"Let's attempt to draw a line in the sand by at the very least saying what (district officials) won't use the Maeser Elementary building for," said Debbie Davis, Maeser neighborhood chairwoman.
Some residents said a free-lunch program already has caused an increase of traffic by homeless people near Maeser Elementary. One woman said she feared the school would become "one-stop shopping for every social program out there."
Meanwhile, residents who live in the southeast part of town were elated by the news that a school soon would be built in their neighborhood. Residents there were pleased last year when Provo reached an agreement with Utah County to buy the old jail property.
Provo Mayor Lewis K. Billings said the city never wanted to own the land but simply wanted to have a say in how it was used. At one time, Utah County had considered selling the jail to a private prison operator.
"That was not something we were anxious to have occur, so we entered the negotiations," Billings said.
Eventually, Provo will purchase all 14.3 acres for about $1.3 million and will sell some of the land to private developers for residential development. The city also will request that private developers make proposals about improvements to Bicentennial Park.
Councilman Greg Hudnall, who works as director of student services for the Provo School District, excluded himself from Tuesday night's discussion and vote, even though he said he did not think he had a conflict of interest.
While Maeser residents pleaded with the council to provide leverage for their lobbying of the school board, others doubted the city's authority to get involved."State law empowers the school board, not the city, to choose new school sites," said David Knecht, chairman of the Provost South neighborhood, where the new school will be located. "I don't think it would be appropriate for you to step on the school board."
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