Alturas Students & teachers get an up-close look at the remodeling in their new building.

Renovations on Track for Alturas’ New Building

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Educators at Alturas are planning on an Aug. 1 move-in date.

IDAHO FALLS — The telltale sounds of a construction site rang through the halls of the O.E. Bell building in downtown Idaho Falls as a handful of workers cobbled the subfloor of what will soon be a gymnasium in the south wing of the historic office building.

“We should have everything done in here by the end of July — at least that’s the plan,” said Tiffany Frasure, vice president of Pro Builders, the Pocatello firm handling the remodel.

Workers install gym sub-flooring in the historic O.E. Bell Building in Downtown Idaho Falls.

A new gym is just one of several rapid-fire renovations now underway to transform O.E. Bell from office space into a new schoolhouse equipped to absorb more than 400 incoming charter school students for 2017-18 school year.

Last year, the City of Idaho Falls granted Alturas International Academy permission to occupy the building. The resulting remodel marks the second time in a century the structure will serve as a school. (Thousands of secondary students attended classes at O.E. Bell from the 1930s to the 1970s, but the building sat vacant for more than a decade before being renovated into office space in the 1990s.)

This most-recent makeover allows Alturas to vacate its current quarters in the old Melaleuca building on the outskirts of town and expand its K-8 enrollment from 270 kids to a targeted 600 in the years to come.

Cofounder and executive director Michelle Ball says O.E. Bell’s new and larger classrooms — now equipped with shiny whiteboards, schoolroom cabinetry and fresh carpets — will also help Alturas fulfill its hallmark approach to learning: group work based on students’ instructional levels, instead of their grade levels.

A makeshift sign graces the O.E. Bell marquee over the names of several businesses, which occupied space in the building for nearly two decades, up until a few months ago.

But the new digs also symbolize something else for Ball — and some of the state’s top charter school advocates, who say the gravitation of charter schools toward Idaho’s typically underserved areas is one way they can curb a current lack of socioeconomic and racial diversity.

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