There was no escaping neighborhood opposition when Spokane Public Schools held an open house about the remodeling and possible relocation of Jefferson Elementary in the school’s gymnasium Tuesday evening.
Poised on the stairs at the main entrance was Mick Heacox collecting signatures opposing the relocation of the school.
“They could remodel the school right here, and they wouldn’t have to touch the running track in the back,” said Heacox, in between greeting people. “It would be absolutely fine to bulldoze the new part of the building and get rid of the portables and do an addition just like they did at Adams Elementary.”
Spokane Public Schools originally presented three options for the modernization of Jefferson: remodel the school at its current location, move the school to the west end of Hart Field just off Manito Boulevard or move the school to the north side of Hart Field, across the street from Sacajawea Middle School. The three options all have various impacts on Hart Field which is Lewis and Clark High School’s home field for sports.
Many neighbors at the west end of Hart Field oppose the relocation of the school to the northeast corner of Manito Boulevard and 37th Avenue. They say the school will have a negative impact on home values and draw too much traffic onto narrow neighborhood streets.
“The school district says Jefferson should be moved for the safety of the kids,” said Heacox, pointing to the busy intersection of 37th and South Grand Boulevard, right by the school. “But they can’t show a single incident where a child has been hurt crossing Grand or 37th Avenue to get to Jefferson.” So far, Heacox said he has collected 500 signatures opposing the relocation of Jefferson Elementary.
Inside the gym Spokane Public Schools officials, teachers, neighbors and parents were mingling, looking at maps showing the three different options.
“There definitely are ways to keep the school here and make it work,” said Greg Brown, director of capital projects for Spokane Public Schools. “There are some elementary school issues such as lack of playground space, lack of parking and lack of a safe drop off area that need to be taken into consideration, but it’s possible.”
Brown said there is now a West Option 2, which moves the school further east on 37th Avenue but not all the way to Manito Boulevard, eliminating parking entrances and bus drop offs on the Manito side.
“We listened to everybody, and we came up with a new option,” Brown said. “That solution still accommodates all the fields and also keeps the big trees at the west side of Hart Field.”
Mark Anderson, assistant superintendent for Spokane Public Schools, countered a claim frequently made by neighbors: “No, the decision for the location of the school has not been made,” Anderson said. “And there’s some confusion there: the steering committee works for the district’s administration and comes up with a recommendation for the location. It’s the school board that makes the final decision.”
Anderson explained that Spokane Public Schools has commissioned a traffic study and also an independent study on the impact an elementary school may have on property values nearby.
“We should have some results from those studies for the meeting at the end of May,” Anderson said. “We are just doing our due diligence.”