Sunday, June 3, 2007

Purchasing a Piece of History

Over the weekend in Albion, Idaho an auction took place. The item up for bid? The historical campus of the once Southern Idaho College of Education (also known as the Albion State Normal School).

After a push by then Governor Len Jordan, in 1951 the Idaho State Legislature agreed to discontinue funding of the campus as well as what was at the time the North Idaho College of Education in Lewiston (now Lewis & Clark State College).

Since its closing, the campus has been the home of a few other institutions, but by and large it has been left to deteriorate.

Nestled against the hills at the entrance into Albion, the campus itself is not on a large plot of land, but is composed of six buildings, a few of which are 104 years old and are listed on the National Historic Register.

What has amazed me about the campus, other than its size because as a kid I thought it was much larger with more buildings than are actually there, is the lack of preservation that has taken place. I know the City of Albion has attempted on numerous occasions to restore the buildings with very limited funding, but all in all they have fallen into disrepair and many of them have serious structural and environmental problems. It seems to me that National Historic Register listings should be protected from this very thing, but unfortunately the campus is not protected.

I was relieved to learn that the auction was indeed successful in that the highest bidders turned out to be three Idahoans who have every intention of restoring and protecting the historic campus--unknown at this point is what the buyers intend to do with the campus once restored.

The Albion campus has always been a piece of Idaho history that I've never felt we should be at all proud of (similar, though not as severe, to how I feel about the Hunt Relocation Camp). The closing and degradation of the Albion campus stands as an ever present reminder of how little care and concern goes into the funding of education throughout the state.

A piece of Idaho history was purchased this weekend for a mere $810,000. I wonder what the cost will be when the dairy interests win out and purchase the site that once stood as a camp illustrating our racism after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.


Jared said...

I think you might be a little unfair in how you characterize Idaho's commitment to public education. You and I got the same education K-12 education and I never once felt in any way neglected or that the state didn't care, in fact, I think I got a quality education that has been solid foundation in my high academic pursuits. While I cannot comment on Idaho's commitment to higher education, I'd love to hear where you think Idaho's commitment is lax, sans increase funding platitudes.

MountainGoat said...

Nice post. I'm glad someone wrote about this; I didn't have the heart.

My Grandmother was in the very first graduating class from Albion Normal School. Several of my aunts and uncles attended also. I always hated to see it just sit there and rot. Maybe these new owners can restore some of its glory.

Tara A. Rowe said...

My Grandma Rowe attended the Normal School as did my Aunt Helen. I went to elementary school in Albion for a little while and the elementary school had a whole bunch of the old books the Normal School used to use for teacher training.

Sage Word said...

Pentultimate paragraph: did you mean to imply ASNS has some sort of negative history (akin to Minidoka being a reminder of xenophobic behavior in the 40's?) Or do you just mean that it is tragic that the school is rotting away.

I'm with you 100% for the latter explanation, but that paragraph seems to imply something negative.

Oh, and 810k for 6 buildings and the surrounding land is some really remarkable cash. The risks and economics of fixing up nearly-condemned buildings are such an unmitigated b***ch, that I'd have let 'em keep the 6 figures if they promised to spend it all toward fixing the school within NHR guidelines.

For example, one such historic building I looked at longingly years ago sold for just $20,000. The buyer has maintained it in current state because the remodel quote was $400,000 to fix it up. With what has happened to construction costs, I'm betting his cost is now nearer to $600,000 or $800,000. Given that the building's small size and forgettable location, etc., it doesn't make economic sense to fix it. Even at half a million bucks, and a *GENEROUS* estimate of $2000 rent, it'd would take twenty-plus years to recover when commercial real estate usually lives on a 10 year ROI cycle.

To do this for ASNS, start with an estimate for fixing those ASNS buildings, then remember how far from population centers they are, then work backwards from a 10 year payback. I get some very ugly numbers from my guesses.

Kudos to the buyers, and the best wishes on their success. As for the Hunt site, the same question is written even larger with Germany's struggle with the fate of her more infamous camps. Great articles on this topic abound. Me, I'd set Hunt back up an living, working camp, along with pre- and post-war exhibits to show just what the internees lost.