A Chewelah School District bond measure may boil down to a question of whether an alternative high school is a sufficient memorial to Col. David Jenkins.
After serving the Union Army in the Civil War, Jenkins resumed his career as a lawyer and moved West in the early 1870s. The Spokane pioneer donated land for numerous civic causes, including the Spokane County Courthouse and Jenkins High School in Chewelah - where he had a large farm.
Opponents of a $6 million bond measure on Tuesday’s ballot to build a new school say the proposal might violate conditions Jenkins set when he donated land for a high school in 1910.
The deed says the land will revert to his heirs if it ceases to be the home of Jenkins High School. However, Jenkins’ six heirs agreed in 1976 it would be OK to turn the high school - which opened in 1911 and was extensively remodeled in the mid-1950s - into Jenkins Middle School.
The attorney of the widely scattered heirs, Bill Powell, said in 1976 that they “reserve the right to reconsider their position if further changes are made to the school.”
Now district officials want to build a new middle school a few blocks away, next to the relocated high school that continues to bear Jenkins’ name. Parts of the old building would be turned into a new alternative high school, also to be called Jenkins.
Superintendent Marcia Costello believes the proposal satisfies the requirement of Jenkins’ heirs that the district maintain “a school” named Jenkins on the site.
But critic Caroline Long is urging voters to reject the bond measure Tuesday because district officials haven’t made sure the heirs would approve of an alternative school. Long said she speaks for 10 to 15 people who call themselves Citizens Against Misinformation.
“We just feel that tax dollars could be better spent to remodel the school and use the extra money for technology and educational purposes,” Long said.
Costello said experts concluded it would cost about the same to build a new school as to renovate the old building, which has major ventilation, electrical and plumbing problems. A new one-story building would allow better security and supervision than remodeling the old two-story structure, she said.
The state will chip in about $2.5 million in construction funds if the district satisfies state requirements, Costello noted. One of the requirements is that the site have at least 15 acres to allow adequate athletic fields for physical education classes.
Long said a state school official told her the district might get a waiver to use the existing 2-1/2-acre site. District leaders believe they couldn’t meet the requirements for a waiver.
“There is no way on 2-1/2 acres that we meet all of our physical education requirements,” Costello said.
The debate is reminiscent of the one that led Jenkins to donate the land. In a 1976 letter, school district critic Bill Hartill quoted the July 1, 1910, issue of the Chewelah Independent newspaper:
“The idea of an addition to the present school building was discussed. The plan did not seem expedient….There is not enough room on the present site to allow building the addition without robbing the children of their playground, which is already too small.”
No one can be sure whether Jenkins would like the current proposal, but he took his deed restrictions seriously.
A 1912 history book, “Spokane and the Inland Empire,” records that Jenkins took back the land he gave for Spokane College when the school foundered.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo