Historic landmark will live on in edifice known by same name

Ricks to replace aging structure

REXBURG, Idaho — A historic landmark at Ricks College will soon be coming down. The Jacob Spori Building, which was built between 1900 and 1903 and which served as the main building on campus for many years, is showing its age.

Historical photo of the Jacob Spori Building, then called the Academy Building, of Ricks College, shows the letters "R' and "A" donated by the classes of 1915 and 1916.
Historical photo of the Jacob Spori Building, then called the Academy Building, of Ricks College, shows the letters "R' and "A" donated by the classes of 1915 and 1916. Photo: Photo courtesy Ricks College

Safety and structural problems require it to be replaced with a new structure that will sit on the same spot in Rexburg and serve the same function of housing classrooms and faculty offices.

Yet the name of Jacob Spori, the first principal of Bannock Stake Academy (the forerunner of modern-day Ricks College) will live on, said Ricks President David A. Bednar.

The president announced Sept. 27 that the new building will be given the same name in honor of the Swiss immigrant. Architects are even trying to design the new building in a similar style. Although the design of the new building has not been finalized, President Bednar said the new building will reflect the "spirit of Ricks."

"One of our top priorities is that the new building preserves the values and history of the past," he said. "While it will not be identical to the Spori, it will be distinctive in its appearance and reflect the 'spirit of Ricks' that is so often associated with the current building. We are doing all we can to capture the heritage and legacy of Ricks College in the new facility."

Like the original building, the new structure will be a vertical design with formal, symmetrical design and pitched roof. The president added that some exterior features of the existing building will be removed and likely incorporated into the design of the interior of the new building. Unlike other buildings on campus that face inward, it will face toward downtown Rexburg as an acknowledgment of the community.

President Bednar said the college has undertaken several projects to preserve the memory of the original building. It commissioned several pieces of artwork focusing on the building, commissioned a scale model of the building to be built, filmed the interior and exterior of the building, and even created a digital tour of the building that is available on CD ROM.

In a recent photo, about 2,000 students and others gather in front of the Jacob Spori Building.
In a recent photo, about 2,000 students and others gather in front of the Jacob Spori Building. Photo: Photo by Michael Lewis

The college commemorated the building at various events throughout the fall. Homecoming events on Oct. 13 and 14 featured the building, with a large photograph of people standing in front of the structure, tributes to Jacob Spori and a commemoration on the lawn prior to homecoming football game Oct.


Because of the decision that Ricks will become a baccalaureate-granting university, architects and campus planners are taking a second look at the final design of the new building. This has caused a delay of when work on the new building will begin. However, the college still intends to begin construction sometime in 2001.

The Spori Building had been a major concern to college leaders for several decades. Determining the appropriate course of action was particularly challenging because of the historic value of the building, and much time and effort were expended in trying to find ways to preserve and/or restore the facility. After extensive research and deliberation, it was determined that restoring the building was not a feasible option.

The building is beloved by many. It was built through donations from early settlers of the Upper Snake River Valley. President George Q. Cannon of the Church's First Presidency laid the cornerstone on June 25, 1900. At the time, several townspeople questioned the wisdom of choosing a site so far from downtown. Rock was hauled by horses from the nearby quarry. The estimated cost was about $40,000; wards in three stakes raised building funds.

Jacob Spori
Jacob Spori

The building housed everything at Ricks at first. As new buildings were constructed, various functions were moved out. Today, there are separate buildings for the library, administrative support and many classroom buildings. "The second floor of the Spori Building was the principal headquarters area for the school with the offices for the president and the registrar being located there," recalled Eldred Stephenson, a retired registrar who lives in Rexburg. "All others on the staff were full-time instructors except for one full-time janitor, who, with some part-time help, cleaned all the halls and rooms, stoked the furnace, watered and mowed the lawns in the summer, and sanded and refinished the gym floor when it was needed."

President Bednar said Brother Spori set an example of selfless service that has been characteristic of many people who have contributed to the college over its 112-year history. The educator joined the LDS Church in Switzerland and immigrated to the United States in 1879. He and his family arrived in Rexburg in 1888; later that year he was named principal of the Church's new academy in Rexburg.

After teaching all day long, Brother Spori performed the janitorial work in the evenings. With the help of some of his students, he sawed and chopped the wood that was used to heat the school, which was held inside the local church building. Uncounted hours were spent visiting area residents to find the means to send their children to the school. People were urged to pay their tuition with any produce they could spare from their farms.

Brother Spori served as principal of Bannock Stake Academy for just three years. During financially difficult times, he suggested to the board of education that one way to cut the deficit was for him to work on his farm and not draw his salary while still teaching and administering at the school. In addition to applying his salary toward the debt, he worked on the railroad for a time, using some of his earnings to help pay salaries of other teachers.

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