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EV seeks Army Reserve center use

While community groups in Spokane are eyeing the Mann Army Reserve Center for possible civilian use, East Valley School District officials are looking to do the same with the Walker Army Reserve Center in Spokane Valley.

Debra Howard, the district’s assistant superintendent of operations, said Tuesday that her preliminary discussions with military officials led her to believe the district could find a way to use the buildings at the 9-acre center.

“We can’t let this opportunity go away,” she said.

The Mann and Walker Army Reserve centers will likely be closed when the Department of Defense builds a new $31 million Armed Forces Reserve Center at Fairchild Air Force Base.

In Spokane, the mayor and City Council appointed a local redevelopment authority to review proposals for the Mann center in Hillyard.

But twice last year, the Spokane Valley City Council voted not to set up a local redevelopment authority to consider a new use for the buildings at the Walker center, citing a potential conflict of interest because the city could benefit from using the site itself.

Although Howard stressed things are preliminary, she told the City Council at its meeting Tuesday night that her discussions with military officials led her to believe the district could step in and form the redevelopment authority.

The district, which has been losing students and state dollars in recent years, could save money by consolidating programs and offices there.

The size of the facility also could allow a number of community service groups to use it, Howard said.

“Not everyone might need all parts of the building,” she said.

Councilman Rich Munson asked her how the school district would ensure it did not promote its own needs over other groups if it set up the redevelopment authority.

Initially the district hoped the city would form one, Howard said, so the district could help pitch suggested uses. If the district formed the redevelopment authority, she said a board with representatives from several community groups could make the decision independently on how the center should be used.

When the military shuts down a base or other site it invokes a complicated process for disposing of the property. In some cases a redevelopment authority can receive the property for a small fraction of its market value if the proposed use falls within certain criteria.

Ultimately, the Army can decide whether the authority’s proposal is up to par, or it can decide to ignore the proposal entirely and hold on to the property.

The council agreed Tuesday to put in writing that Spokane Valley had no objections to the school district moving forward, which is required because the city ultimately controls the zoning on the site.

“I’m just perfectly delighted that you’re stepping forward to do this,” said Councilman Bill Gothmann.