Ask former Lewis and Clark High School students for an assessment of their alma mater, and they’ll list the virtues of the 86-year-old school.
The elegant Gothic-Tudor style. The historic pipe organ presiding over the auditorium. Its proximity to downtown.
Oh, and did they mention Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone back in 1911?
But ask any present LC student what’s wrong with their building and … The building sizzles in late spring. It can be a scorcher in the winter, too, thanks to an over-the-hill heating system.
Traffic whizzes by classroom windows on the neighboring freeway.
The water tastes like metal.
The basement cafeteria, more commonly known as the dungeon, is an orange-walled calamity where few care to eat.
And the dripping, rattling bathrooms - well, don’t even go there.
“You’re doing your business and a drop of who-knows-what hits your head,” said senior Travis Fox.
“It’s true,” said teacher Eric Woodard. “The custodians do the best job they can, but the place is coming apart. We need more than just a plug here and a new pipe there.”
District 81 officials have come up with a plan they’re hoping will appease both the nostalgic and practical. They want to expand the school campus and renovate the building, while maintaining its historic exterior.
Lewis and Clark stands to receive the largest chunk of a $74.5 million bond issue District 81 will place before Spokane voters next month.
Renovating LC would cost an estimated $41 million. From the bond, $18 million - about 19 cents of each bond dollar - would go to the city’s oldest high school. An additional $9 million would come from district capital projects funds and the rest from anticipated state matching grants.
If the bond issue passes, the project would go to bid in July of 1999 and be finished by 2001.
The overhaul would correct the hodgepodge of problems educators say distract students and hinder learning.
“It’s just that much more the students have to deal with,” said Principal Mike Howson. “The district did a nice job of keeping the classrooms in as good condition as possible. However, the basic systems in the building are wearing out. We’ve just used up their lifetime.”
While the exterior structure of the main building would remain, not much else would. The inside would be mostly gutted to allow for new electricity and plumbing systems, improved handicap access and more efficient use of classroom space.
Double- or tripled-paned windows would be installed on the north side of the building to filter out freeway noise and pollution.
The surrounding campus would also get a makeover. The district plans to purchase the blocks to the east and southeast of the campus. The land currently houses several businesses, including The Outlaw restaurant and The Exchange Want Ads. Several other buildings on the lots are vacant.
The field house would be removed and replaced with a grassy plaza. Two gyms would be built on the block just east of the school, connected to the main building by skywalk across Stevens, a busy thoroughfare.
The southeast block would become fields for physical education classes. Currently, students walk to fields four blocks away.
The plan also calls for an underground parking garage next to the new gyms, which would add 100 spaces. Now, students and staff have 180 pay-to-park spots under the freeway. Remaining drivers jostle for space on the streets.
The locker rooms at Hart Field, the school’s athletic facility, would be replaced.
So far, there are no blueprints of what the interior of the 231,000-square-foot school would look like.
“We’ve got the outside walls, but on the inside, it’s kind of like a clean slate,” said district planning director Ned Hammond. “As soon as we have a bond issue that’s been passed, then we’ll get on board with an architect.”
Another crucial issue - where to put the school’s 1,550 students during renovation - also has yet to be resolved.
The district is looking into using classrooms in nearby churches or vacating a street near the school and bringing in portable classrooms.
Hammond said they’d look at phasing the project so the bulk of the work was done during summer months.
Lewis and Clark’s current freshmen, the class of 2001, would be the new school’s first graduates. They’d also bear the brunt of being scattered during remodeling.
“This school may be getting a little bit too old. It’d be weird, though,” freshman Julian Tavares said. “I guess we could experience an old school and a new school.”
“If it’s for the greater good, I wouldn’t mind,” freshman Kyra Berkovich said.
Planners arrived at the $41 million price tag by studying construction costs at high schools around the state with comparable square footage.
According to district studies, remodeling would be slightly cheaper than starting from scratch. But, for many, that’s not at all the point.
LC roots run deep in Spokane. Reopened in 1912 after its predecessor burned to the ground two years earlier, it’s a source of pride for ardent alumni who for years have fought to keep the wrecking ball at bay.
The district has been toying with the idea of rebuilding Lewis and Clark since the 1970s, when the district cited its inadequate structure and location as reasons to replace it.
In 1987, a district committee recommended the school be rebuilt within 10 years at Hart Field, four miles south of the present site off 37th Avenue. LC backers were outraged.
“I have such great memories of that place,” said Judy Imhof, who graduated from Lewis and Clark in 1978 and has two young daughters heading there. “It’s worth saving.”
“My mom went here. Now I do,” said Travis Fox. “A lot of people are really happy they’re considering not making LC look like a strip mall.”
But others say there are better solutions.
“To have a high school in the middle of the central business district with the freeway sticking in the third floor, it’s not a real compatible place to have a high school,” said Jim Hall, whose son attended LC for four years.
Hall said he supports moving the school to Hart Field.
“If you spend all that money and renovate, you’re still stuck with a 100-year-old building,” he said. “I’m all for historic buildings, but this is too much.”
But logic, not sentiment, had the final say when the district chose to remodel, Hammond said.
“You can’t minimize the effect of the emotion with an historic structure like this,” he said. “But the objective data is there to support those emotions.”
A citizens advisory committee of LC parents and teachers studied three options for more than a year.
They looked at the costs of renovating the school at its present site, moving the school to Hart Field or replacing the school at an all-new location.
The committee concluded renovation would cost about $40.8 million while relocating to Hart Field would be around $41.7 million. Rebuilding the school at a new location would run $42.8 million.
They held three public meetings, at which 114 people supported the plan to renovate LC. Three either abstained from voting or favored relocation.
The group unanimously recommended last spring that the school be renovated.
“It was the best decision by default,” said Steve McNutt, committee co-chair and a local architect with two children at Lewis and Clark. “The other options weren’t very good.”
The committee discarded the idea of moving the school to Hart Field after a public meeting at Sacajawea Middle School.
Neighbors there were “unanimously negative” about moving the school there, McNutt said.
McNutt, who headed up construction of new Mt. Spokane High School in the Mead district, said he knew what such a reaction could mean - thousands of dollars and hours spent on environmental impact studies demanded by the neighbors.
Opponents of the new Mead school delayed construction through similar means.
The committee also scouted locations near Latah Creek, Spokane Falls Community College and Playfair Race Course. None was suitable.
Some were on steep terrain or in close proximity to active railroad lines, McNutt said.
The locations were also remote from the school’s boundaries. Lewis and Clark serves students on the west side of the South Hill and the near northeast side of Spokane.
Based on the committee’s recommendation, the district hired architects to study the practicality of remodeling.
ALSC architect John Manning, who worked on the study, said a renovated LC could easily last another 40 years. The building has a steel frame with concrete floors, a good combination.
“It has stood the test of time,” he said. “Under the cracks, the building is very strong.”
Now the district will wait to see if Spokane voters feel the building is worth saving.
“People would generally agree, after 90 years the building needs work,” said McNutt. “Whether people will dig into their pocketbooks, that is the central question.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BOND ISSUE? The Lewis and Clark renovation is just one project on the district’s wish list. The $74.5 million bond issue would also pay for technology upgrades throughout the district, a new Browne Elementary School and other projects. The bond would raise taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home to $146 per year. Homeowners currently pay $99 per year for a bond that runs out in 2003. The new bond would be paid off by 2009. Over the next few weeks, The Spokesman-Review will look at how the district would spend $25 million to upgrade technology and rewire the schools. And the North and South Side Voices will look at how the bond issue will affect individual schools. What are your questions about the bond issue? Let us know by calling Cityline at 458-8800 on a Touch-Tone phone and then pressing 9884. Please leave your name and a daytime phone number. We’ll answer as many questions as we can in upcoming stories.