August 16, 2007 in Voices

Neighbors want Pratt for community center

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Fearing their crime-reduction efforts of 10 years could be undone by the closing of Pratt Elementary School, Edgecliff area neighbors are asking the city of Spokane Valley for $20,000 to help rent the school building as a community center.

“The school served as much more than an elementary school. It was a safe haven for Edgecliff’s Weed and Seed program,” said Ken Briggs, director of Spokane Valley Partners. “No one wants to see those gains lost. So we want to continue using the building.”

With several Edgecliff neighbors in the audience, Spokane Valley Partners made its pitch for Pratt this week to the Spokane Valley City Council. Mayor Diana Wilhite said after the meeting there were more social agency requests, $213,000 worth, than budgeted funding, $130,000.

“It’s certainly a very worthy cause,” Wilhite said.

The council is scheduled to make a decision Sept. 11. Cash from the city wouldn’t be available until January.

The Pratt school has been at the middle of Edgecliff efforts to rid the neighborhood of drugs and crime since the late 1990s. Edgecliff then was plagued by low-rent drug addicts burglarizing neighborhood homes to support their habits. They vandalized a neighborhood cemetery and turned local playgrounds into pharmaceutical wastebaskets.

But things turned around after neighbors joined the Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort.

Running their citizen-based crime-prevention programs out of a tiny house on Thierman Avenue, SCOPE leaders managed to slow the crime rate and convince the community to clean itself up. Tons of discarded junk have been collected from the neighborhood in cleanup drives over the past several years.

Two probation officers opened shop in the SCOPE office to better keep track of felons living in the area on probation or parole.

In 2002, SCOPE took its efforts to the next level. The Edgecliff neighborhood became one of two sites in Eastern Washington designated as a “Weed and Seed community” by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The program helped the neighborhood weed out crime and decay and replace them with education and social programs. The Pratt school became ground zero for the Weed and Seed programs, which were funded by more than $700,000 in federal grants.

But the grants end this year, and Edgecliff neighbors have been planning for some time to keep the programs going after Weed and Seed ends. But they didn’t foresee the closure of the Pratt school.

The Spokane Public Schools board of directors voted unanimously last April to close Pratt as a cost-cutting measure beginning this fall. About 230 students from Pratt will be bused this fall to Lincoln Heights and Sheridan elementary schools.

If rent can be raised to secure the building, Spokane Valley Partners told the city of Spokane Valley, it would like to bring other non-SCOPE programs to the site and make it a true community center. The school kitchen, for example, could be an asset for the Meals on Wheels program.

The $20,000 requested from Spokane Valley wouldn’t cover the rent entirely. Spokane Valley Partners has been promised a $10,000 private donation for the project if the city chips in $20,000.


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