August 2, 2008 in Voices

McKinley School discussed

Building’s owners talk with city about development
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Photos by DAN PELLE photo

Dale Strom and Dave Ross leave the historic McKinley Elementary School after a tour, July 16. The building is now owned by Spokane Transfer and there is hope of refurbishing it for community use.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

The old McKinley School at 117 N. Napa St. stands like a ghost in the heart of the East Central Neighborhood.

The big old grade school has been used for years by Spokane Transfer & Storage Co. as part of its regional trucking operation.

But the school has deeper meaning for the owners, Dave and Doug Ross, whose family has operated out of the site since the late 1960s.

Their father, Dale Ross, 88, and four of their uncles attended McKinley School prior to its closure in 1962 and have had a long-stated desire to see the building preserved for community use.

“My dad’s intent was to preserve this place and to have it used as a community center,” said Dave Ross, who runs Spokane Transfer with his brother, Doug, the president of the company.

Today, Spokane Transfer, which is based at 407 N. Perry St., is facing the possibility of being forced to move its operations to make way for an extension of Riverside Avenue from Division Street to Trent Avenue at Perry.

As a result, Ross and city officials are talking about the possibility of converting the 1902 McKinley School to other uses.

Dave Ross has opened the building for a series of tours in recent weeks to give community leaders a chance to consider possible reuse of the building should Spokane Transfer decide to consolidate its operations at a new location.

“We are trying to build community support to get the building reused,” said Dale Strom, of the Community Development Department at City Hall.

He said McKinley School could be a cornerstone in an emerging arts and international district along the East Sprague Avenue corridor.

McKinley School is one block north of Sprague at Napa Street and Riverside Avenue. It is also close to the former Playfair racetrack, which was purchased by the city in 2004 for use by the wastewater utility. Now, 48 acres of the Playfair site have been declared surplus, and the city plans to seek proposals for private commercial uses there. Ross said Spokane Transfer is interested in the possibility of relocating to Playfair.

The school itself remains in relatively good condition with many of its classrooms and other features left intact. The maple floors are solid and level. Old fixtures and moldings remain inside.

Classrooms could be perfect for possible art studios, said Karen Mobley, city arts director, during a tour earlier this month.

“Good light. Nice high ceilings. Open space,” Mobley explained.

“Right now, I don’t think there’s a plan. It’s an exploration.”

City art and recreation programs could benefit from having additional classroom space, said Lynn Mandyke, director of the city’s Corbin Art Center.

Strom said the city is not in a financial position to own and operate the building, but it could be an interim owner pending redevelopment.

He said city officials want community members to know the building may be available and to find out how much interest there is in redeveloping the property to other uses and what kinds of uses would be appropriate.

Renowned architect L.L. Rand designed the building, which was completed in two stages in 1902 and 1903, to open up new classroom space for a fast-expanding population in east Spokane, according to news files.

The school operated until 1962 when it was closed as a result of a dwindling student population in the neighborhood. Spokane Public Schools sold it in 1965 to a transfer company operation.

The Ross family members acquired it in about 1968, Dave Ross said.

In 1970, owners and brothers Dale and Lester Ross were joined by their three other brothers – Gordon, Dale and Emmett – in proposing that the school be converted to a community center to offer services similar to those now housed at the East Central Community Center. The proposal didn’t fly, but the owners never lost their desire to see the old school preserved and reused by the community.

Members of the Ross family have operated two transfer companies in Spokane dating back to 1943.

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