Old Bench school site was going to be a gas station. Now, a very different plan is forming

Franklin School stood as an icon on the Boise Bench for 104 years, before crews tore it down in 2009. In the years since, the large school site has been mostly empty, with the promise of a gas station in the place where classrooms once stood.

But now, the plan for a large Maverik convenience store and other commercial retail is over. The City of Boise is likely to buy the site, with new ideas centered around the neighborhood.

“It’s obviously a pretty important site up on the Bench,” City of Boise Director of Economic Development Nic Miller said. “It’s a great site for housing, a great site for a potential mixed-use development, a great site for many things.”

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During its Tuesday meeting, Boise’s City Council will consider an agreement to purchase the 4.7-acre site for $1.855-million. The proceeds will come from cash in the city’s general fund, but part of the property could also be split up, with a portion of it being purchased by a third-party who would trade another parcel to the city in exchange for a piece of the Franklin & Orchard site. The city says the possible assignment and exchange provision gives it flexibility.

City staffers learned Maverik put the property up for sale in January and negotiated an initial agreement.

Affordable housing possible

Franklin School site
The faded yellow lines of a hopscotch court are one of the few remnants of the former Franklin Elementary School site at Franklin Rd. and Orchard St. in Boise. The City of Boise hopes to purchase the site for housing or mixed-use. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

“We are focused on housing,” City of Boise Communications Director Mike Journee said. “We are focused on creating more housing for (people who are) 80% of median income and below.”

A portion of the Franklin School site is already designated for a new park site, which just saw a “green up” in recent months. Journee and Miller also point out that it is on major transit routes and near a variety of services, like the Fred Meyer across the street. Those amenities could give life to something new for the undeveloped land.

“We are excited about an acquisition,” Miller said. “We see this as an opportunity to add more housing to the bench and add amenities to the Bench.”

Miller said a decision on exactly what will happen hasn’t been made. If the Boise City Council approves, staff will move into a 90-day due diligence period.

Lots of excitement

Central Bench Neighborhood Association President Randy Johnson said his group is excited.

“That whole block has been important to our neighborhood for a long time now,” Johnson said.

The city says it will engage in a “lengthy” neighborhood engagement process on the future of the site. Johnson plans to include people across the neighborhood.

“We want to make sure we include neighbors and bring them back in,” he said. But it’s not hard to imagine some of the ideas that are possible.

“Something like a Bown crossing where we can have that mixed-use, where we have restaurants, where we have places for us to work and play,” Johnson said. “And around that development someplace to live and keep it affordable.”

Franklin demolition ‘left a hole’

The old Franklin School. Photo courtesy Preservation Idaho

“When (the school) was taken down it kind of left a hole in our community,” Johnson said.

The Boise School District decided to tear down Franklin and another school a few miles away – Cole Elementary at Cole Rd. and Fairview Ave. The buildings were two of the oldest on the Bench. The district said it was too expensive to maintain the structures after voters approved a bond that built new schools and closed the older ones.

Franklin started out as a high school before a series of remodels and changes. It began serving elementary students full time in 1949.

The Maverik plan, now abandoned

The newly greened up Franklin Park. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

After the demolition, Maverik Inc. purchased the majority of both the Franklin and Cole sites and designated them for future convenience stores. The last site plan submitted to the City of Boise showed the c-store along Franklin and Orchard, with fuel pumps behind and a number of other commercial buildings and parking to the west and south.

The City of Boise purchased the SW corner of Franklin along Hilton & Peg. Now greened up, a full-scale park is planned in the future.

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