UNION — The popularity of silent movies was nearing its peak when Union High School’s classroom building opened in late 1911. Today, UHS’s building, with its classic architectural features, is like many films from the silent movie era — timelessly popular but fragile.

The toll of the years is why the Union School District recently had Design West Architects, of Meridian, Idaho, take a close look at the condition of Union High School and other aging school district buildings.

“We wanted to see what our options are,” said Union School District Superintendent Carter Wells.

The report completed by Design West proposed a number of options for restoring the district’s facilities. All call for the school district to update and restore Union High School’s classroom building, which is in need of the most restoration work.

“Mortar in the walls is deteriorating and there are missing bricks. There is a possibility of dry rot and there are cracks in the foundation,” the Design West report states.

The high school building, whose east side features tall columns and a grand staircase, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Wells said that Design West stressed that because of this designation, the school district might qualify for grants from historic preservation organizations for restoring the high school.

The architects also noted though that if update work transforms the nature of the high school, the school district would be responsible for making sure the building meets current building codes. Public entities are not required to meet some building codes for buildings if they were constructed before certain dates.

Design West estimated that it would cost between $2.7 and $3.1 million to upgrade Union High School.

Beyond the high school, the architects outlined an option calling for at least $2 million worth of maintenance work be done at Union Elementary School’s S.E. Miller and J.F. Hutchinson buildings. Design West suggested that at least $949,000 be spent on the J.F. Hutchinson building and that at least $1.5 million be spent on the S.E. Miller building. The S.E. Miller building was constructed in 1956, and the J.F. Hutchinson building is more than 80 years old.

Another old structure on the Design West update list is the high school gym, which is in need of at least $361,000 worth of maintenance work, according to the firm. The gym is one of two in the school district now, but Design West presented an option calling for a third one to be built, possibly adjacent to the J.F. Hutchinson building on the north end of Union’s campus.

The gym would replace the one now at the S.E. Miller building, which also serves as the school district’s cafeteria and would be retained. Because of the gym’s dual usage, availability is often limited, Wells said. A new gym would be beneficial to the district. The new gymnasium proposed by Design West would cost about $2 million.

Design West also suggested an option that would boost security by changing the school district’s parking configuration. Presently staff and students parking on campus must do so between the high school and the S.E. Miller building on a one-way paved road that winds through campus and exits between the high school and its gym.

Design West proposed that a parking area be created in another portion of campus and that the road between the high school and the S.E. Miller building be closed to most traffic by operable gates. Wells said this would create a more secured campus and limit vehicle access between buildings.

“Security is always on the forefront of our minds,” the superintendent said.

See complete story in Monday's Observer