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Best of the Voices: Alternative school students get taste of business world

Sun., Feb. 15, 2009

Spokane Valley High School Principal Larry Bush was pleased to find out his school was one of the top 10 alternative high schools in Washington, but he always knew he had something special going on at his school.

“All the kids are here by choice,” he said. “I think that’s one of the strengths of the program.”

The school was judged for the award by the Baker Evaluation Research Consulting Group, based in Redmond, Wash. The company looked at student transcripts, graduation rates, dropout rates and teacher credentials. It also came to the school and conducted focus groups with students.

The school is in the West Valley district, but is also a Valley Co-op school that gets support from the Central Valley, East Valley and Freeman districts. Students from other districts in Spokane, Mead and Cheney regularly enroll.

Spokane Valley High School operates on a six-period schedule and offers traditional core classes. But students also can choose among four “pathways” – horticulture, landscape design, Web design and the Phoenix Cafe.

Each pathway is a money-producing business. Students in the horticulture pathway use a greenhouse to raise food for the school and plants to sell. Landscape designers meet with homeowners and design their yards for them. Students who work in the Phoenix Cafe make breakfast and lunch for students every day and run a small store and catering company.

“It’s to really get them oriented to the business world,” Bush said. “It’s just like real-world stuff. These kids do a pretty bang-up job.”

The school has about 300 students in grades nine through 12. Some are attracted to the small classes. Others like the hands-on work and individual attention from teachers. Some might be struggling academically in a traditional school.

“We don’t have a typical (student),” Bush said.

Word of mouth attracts many of the school’s students. Senior Tyler Carney, 17, had three older brothers who attended the school after finding University High School too large and stressful. He’s been at the school since his freshman year. “I heard them talking about it,” he said. “I didn’t want to go through what they went through.”

Automated meter reading will save time, trouble

The city of Coeur d’Alene Water Department’s walking route to record every residence’s water meter will soon become a way of the past.

For decades, the department relied on a crew that trekked around town to each home and business within city limits – more than 17,000 units. In recent years, that route took a three-person team two months to complete, meaning residents would receive a hefty water bill every two months.

That all started to change in June 2005, when the Water Department invested in a new wireless technology. A cylindrical device is connected to the water meter and transmits a radio signal every four seconds. Now, instead of walking from house to house, Water Department employees can just drive past a home and pick up the signal with a laptop computer.

“It’s really quite the unique unit,” said Terry Pickel, assistant superintendent of the Water Department. Now completing the route takes two weeks, Pickel said.

The total cost of updating every water meter will be about $2.4 million, which Pickel said was covered through ratepayer fees.

“With the growth of Coeur d’Alene, it’s pretty much paid for itself,” he said.

In addition to the reduced recording times, the wireless system eliminates possible human error in reading the meters, said Utility Supervisor Rob Stark. Also, if there is a leaky faucet or burst pipe in a home, the Water Department can notify a homeowner much more quickly, limiting damage. The wireless devices have been installed in roughly 13,000 buildings. The Water Department is hoping to update the remaining 4,000 meters, primarily in the downtown area, by late August.

Spangle Saloon reopens after fire

It had been eight months since the Spangle Saloon was open for business. Eight months without friends laughing over beers or a dinner of broasted chicken.

During the closure, owner Linda Zimmerman says, one little boy rode his bike to the saloon with his mother trailing behind.

“You got corn dogs yet?” the boy demanded of Zimmerman. “I haven’t had a corn dog since you burned.”

The saloon had a grease fire in its kitchen last June. Although the suppression system kicked in, a hole in the stove sucked the fire into the wall of the kitchen. No one was hurt.

Since then, Zimmerman and her partner, Dennis Wederspahn, had been hearing from folks all over Spangle, from Cheney, Spokane, Colfax and Rosalia: When will the Spangle Saloon be open for business again?

The answer came Jan. 31, when the newly remodeled and furnished saloon opened just in time for the Super Bowl.

“It was nice to see the same faces again,” Zimmerman said.

Originally, Zimmerman and Wederspahn thought they’d have the saloon back up and running by August, but remodeling a building more than 100 years old posed challenges.

“There was more damage than what we thought,” Zimmerman said. She and Wederspahn had five layers of roof and three layers of flooring to tear out to meet building codes. They also found asbestos and needed to do a lot of rewiring.

One of the features in the saloon before the fire was a large wooden column that had been marked with brands of farmers in the area.

Zimmerman and Wederspahn invited farmers for a party while they branded a new column – one that had been set up outside the building to avoid smoke damage inside. Zimmerman said she was very grateful that all of her employees were able to come back to the Spangle Saloon when it reopened.

“We got a great town,” she said. “That’s why we’re here and why we’re staying.”

Nina Culver Jacob Livingston Lisa Leinberger

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