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School looks to LCDC for upgrade funds

A tentative agreement to use urban renewal funds to bring Coeur d’Alene Sorensen Elementary School into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act awaits approval from a Lake City Development Corp. attorney, said LCDC Executive Director Tony Berns. Berns expects the review to be completed in time for the urban renewal agency’s regular meeting Wednesday.

The school, once on the chopping block, will begin its first year as a magnet school for the arts and humanities this fall. It needs about $421,000 in upgrades to bring it into ADA compliance.

The Coeur d’Alene School District approached the urban renewal agency after the magnet school concept was approved in February. The LCDC board voted to support the improvements at an April meeting, but questions about the legality of using the urban renewal funding for something outside urban renewal district boundaries has kept any money from being allotted.

“We are basically now waiting for them,” said Harry Amend, Coeur d’Alene schools superintendent.

The LCDC has advocated keeping public schools open near downtown and passed a resolution calling for Sorensen to stay open.

“We view the school as a separate and unique aspect that you can’t have on every block in the city,” Berns said. “The school definitely benefits the district even though it’s not located in the district.”

But the proposal explores uncharted territory. Berns knows of one other case of an urban renewal district funding a project outside its boundaries, and that was a wastewater facility.

“To our knowledge, it’s never been done for a school in Idaho,” Berns said.

Architects West prepared a study of the needed improvements at Sorensen. The work could be done in phases, with big items – remodeled bathrooms and a $91,000 elevator – coming first.

The fact that Sorensen wasn’t ADA-compliant hasn’t been an issue until now because the school didn’t offer anything different from the other Coeur d’Alene elementary schools. But with its transition to a specialized school for the arts and humanities, disabled students can’t simply attend another school and get the same education.

The school district hopes to get funding this summer to complete the most-necessary work. But fall enrollment at the school is full, and the district hasn’t heard of any students with disabilities who will need accommodations that the building can’t already provide, Amend said.

“Our goal is to have those accommodations done if and when that first person were to show,” Amend said.


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