Awards to be sought for Fisher preservation

Commission gives OK to Cheney staff to seek state, federal nominations for new School House Lofts


February 8, 2018

City of Cheney staff are preparing nominations for the School House Lofts for state and federal historic preservation awards.

Cheney's Historical Preservation Commission gave "enthusiastic support" at its Feb. 1 meeting to city staff to go ahead and prepare nominations for the School House Lofts student apartments for several state and national preservation awards.

School House Lofts, which opened this past August/September, was formerly known as the Fisher Building - which began life in 1931 as Cheney High School and was subsequently the district's junior high and then administration building. The building was sold in 2016 to the Eastmark Capital Group from Seattle, who renovated the structure into student housing while also retaining as much of its historical character as possible.

Prior to its sale, the commission unanimously approved including the Fisher Building on Cheney's historic registry, helping the soon-to-be new owners attempts to secure historic preservation tax credits as well as inclusion on state and national registries.

Commission administrative assistant Sue Beeman said the city is looking to nominate the School House Lofts for the state Archeology and Historic Preservation department's Valerie Sivinski Award for Outstanding Rehabilitation of a historic property. Nationally, the project is being nominated for the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards.

The state deadline for nominations is March 9 while the national award deadline is March 1. Because the deadlines occur before the commission's next regular meeting, Beeman said she will put the nominating paperwork together and circulate it among the commissioners for comment and final approval.

In other business, commissioners were provided an update on efforts to relocate Cheney's former Northern Pacific Railroad train depot. Beeman said the relocation organization, Cheney Depot Society, is still waiting on confirmation from the depot's current owner, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, that it intends to donate the depot to the organization.

That move would enable a similar donation of land along First Street for the depot's future home to proceed to finalization. It would also allow the Depot Society to apply for state grant funding to assist its own fundraising efforts to physically move the depot, an application that carries April deadlines.

"We don't need all of that in place, just a written pledge to donate," Beeman said in a Feb. 5 phone interview.

Also at the Feb. 1 meeting, the commission heard two presentations on aspects of historic preservation, one by senior planner Brett Lucas and the other by building inspector Terry Mourning.

Lucas' presentation focused on commercial property in the context of historic preservation and property rights, using as an example one of three McDonald's drive-thru restaurants still in existence that retains the chain's original architecture. The 1962 facility that stands in Portland, Ore., used only for parties or meetings, is set for demolition.

The interior has been remodeled and the original sign is long gone, but the structure still has the golden arches set as a sort of framework for the building. While maybe not as striking as the architecture of older buildings that have been preserved, the structure is still unique in design, and Lucas asked the commission at what point these types of facilities are worthy of preservation.

Lucas presented Cheney's post office as a local example of this type of preservation question, noting that while most people won't see it as special, it is iconic in design and reflects the style of a particular period. He also pointed to special challenges associated with preservation of these structures when it comes to the property rights of the owners.

Mourning's presentation examined Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello, and the unique role it played in leading the way to historic preservation of older structures.

John McCallum can be reached at


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