Engineering firm enjoys move to old Midland School

       Terra Nova Engineering has settled into its new home in the historic Midland School building over the past month and a half. The small firm, which specializes in drainage engineering, spreads its 11-employee staff throughout the first-floor classrooms of the two-story, 105-year-old brick structure at 815 S. 25th St. Ages-old chalkboards are handy to draw an idea, although the little desks are gone. Terra Nova Engineering owner Luanne Rubey (third from
left) and several of her staff make use of an old chalkboard
in one of the classrooms converted to office space at the
former Midland School. Others in the photo are (from left) Mike Cartmell, Vanessa Bean, Quentin Armijo, Laura Espinoza and Mary Manren.
Westside Pioneer photo
       The site is proving to be a conversation piece, according to Luanne Rubey, owner of Terra Nova and now (through an LLC) the school site. “We've had a couple of clients say it was a flashback to grade school,” she laughed in a recent interview.
       From 1889 to 1956, the building housed the Midland School, then handled some of its grades until 1970. The location is across the street from Bott Park. The newer Midland Elementary was built in 1956 on Broadway Street. Our Lady of the Rockies was the most recent user of Old Mildand, operating a private Christian school at the location from 1983 to March 2006. The area is mostly residential, but after a neighborhood meeting at the building last summer, no one opposed the Terra Nova plans.
       As an engineer, Rubey knows the building and its 1.37-acre property need some attention. Her husband, Sid, already chipped in by sprucing up the first-floor bathroom. And some interior painting and polishing of the hardwood floors were necessary before relocating the Terra Nova office from its former downtown location.
       Under Terra Nova's development plan with the city, an improved sidewalk will be the first project the surrounding neighborhood sees. Other goals are “a little landscaping,” possibly a wrought iron perimeter fence, a garden in back and even some fruit trees (“a tradition of the old Westside”), Rubey said.
       Along with the need to be closer to a key customer - Gold Hill Mesa, off 21st Street - the main business reason for the move was Terra Nova outgrowing its former, rented 1,500 square feet on North Wahsatch Avenue. The move has changed that situation around. The Midland School contains 12,000 square feet in all, and that includes a second floor Terra Nova has no plans to use (and might rent out).
       Structurally, the building is relatively sound, but some cosmetic work is needed, such as painting the huge windows - throwbacks to a day when schools used sunlight to save on lighting costs - “to give it a fresh look from the outside,” she said.
       Any upgrades will have to be in keeping with the historical character. “We don't want to wreck the feel of the old school,” Rubey emphasized.
       Her study of the building's history turned up an anecdote from the period when the building wasn't a school: A large family reportedly lived there, and was known for frequent fistfights.
       Although it's not required in her approval, she hopes at some point to meet with the city's Historic Preservation Commission in quest of restoration ideas.
       Rubey's staff has been happy with the move. “They really like the space,” she said. “And all studies show the value of natural lighting.”

Westside Pioneer article