Two years after Coeur d’Alene tribal leaders spiritually cleansed the site of their new tribal school with burning sweet grass, the spot stands empty but for some idle bulldozers.
Fed up with the constant delays of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which was to build and own the school, the tribe applied for a separate grant this summer.
The $4.2 million from the BIA’s education division came through, and the tribe’s contractor started preparing the site last month.
Tribal leaders were anxious to get their children out of the crumbling portable classrooms that squat below the Rev. Pierre Jean DeSmet’s mission. The brick building served as a Catholic-run school for most of the tribe’s reservation years.
The children moved into the portables in 1975, when the tribe took over the job of education from Catholic nuns.
Tribal planner John Abraham said the contractor needs to frame the school as soon as possible because winter weather could ruin the graded site.
But work on the school stalled again last week when engineers suggested turning the school around 180 degrees.
Most delays since the groundbreaking, including the most recent one, are due to design changes required after the tribe discovered its site is on unstable soil saturated by water.
The latest change is expected to save $35,000 and two weeks of construction time, Abraham said.
But because money for the site preparation is controlled by the BIA, the agency must approve every change.
Sometimes that takes months.
The BIA’s project coordinator in Albuquerque, Keith Miller, declined to comment.
In contrast, the money from the BIA’s education division is controlled by the tribe. That money covers only the building.
Abraham is hoping the latest delay will be cleared up in a few days.
About 70 children attend the tribal school now. Once the school is built, tribal leaders anticipate no problem finding another 50 to 60 students to fill the school.
“Plummer’s packed,” said tribal school Superintendent Austin “Scott” Buckles, referring to the local public school district. “They’ve got kids hanging off the rafters there.”
If all goes as planned, the school could open some time next fall.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo