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Controversy evident at Jefferson school redevelopment meeting

Appraiser concludes sale prices of homes near elementary schools not discounted

What began as three different proposals for the remodeling or rebuilding of Jefferson Elementary School earlier this year quickly evolved into a major neighborhood controversy when some neighborhood residents turned out to be wildly opposed to relocating the school.

Tuesday evening the next chapter in the saga was written when Spokane Public Schools delivered on its promise to present a property value study and a traffic study for neighbors.

Close to 100 people filled the gym at Jefferson where appraiser Bruce Jolicoeur, from Auble, Jolicoeur and Gentry, presented the property value study and Bill White, principal planner with Intermountain Transportation Solutions, presented the traffic study for the three different Jefferson options.

As part of Spokane Public Schools’ extensive remodeling project Jefferson can either be remodeled where it’s currently located, moved to the west end of Hart Field by Manito Boulevard or moved to the north end of Hart Field across the street from Sacajawea Middle School. The total budget for the school remodel is $25.1 million, and there’s a separate $2.5 million budget to pay for remodeling and updates at Hart Field. The two are connected as the layout of Hart Field will change depending on where the elementary school is.

Some residents, especially those along Manito Boulevard and facing Hart Field, have said that their property values would go down if an elementary school was built right across the street from them. To find out if that is the case, Jolicoeur studied the actual sale price of single family homes located near Wilson, Hamblen and Hutton elementary schools. In each case, he found at least one recently sold home located right across the street from the school and compared the sale price of that home to that of a similar home a few blocks away. In all three locations his conclusion was the same.

“Sales prices of homes located just across the street from an elementary school are not discounted,” Jolicoeur said. He’d also asked real estate agents about their experience with selling homes across the street from elementary schools, and said the only negative they mentioned was that sometimes the location could limit the pool of potential buyers because some see little or no benefit in being near a school – for instance if they don’t have kids.

“But homes across the street from elementary schools sell as fast as homes in other parts of the neighborhood,” Jolicoeur said. “I can’t find a discount in local sales data around these South Hill schools. I’m even willing to say that my data suggest a little bit of a premium for homes near schools.”

Bill White began by reminding people that his study and methodology had been reviewed by another traffic engineering company before the final conclusions were drawn.

White then turned to his analysis of the east site (Jefferson’s current location) and said he’d found that if the school was simply remodeled in its current location, then there would be no significant changes in traffic patterns in the area – but he’d still recommend a traffic light at the intersection of Grand Boulevard and 37th Avenue.

Of the three possible locations, White said the north site – across the street from Sacajawea Middle School – is the least favorable from a traffic standpoint.

“It’s not an ideal situation, it gives a really hard hit to 33rd Avenue even if we end up with a light at 33rd and Grand Boulevard,” White said, adding that it’s rarely recommended to place schools this close together. “We may also end up in a situation where we’ll get a traffic light both at 33rd and Grand and at 37th and Grand – we wouldn’t want to do that.” Both the east site and the west site are viable from a traffic standpoint, White said, especially if a traffic light is added at 37th and Grand.

The biggest benefit of the west site, White said, is that it moves the school away from a busy arterial and the congested intersection at Grand Boulevard.

“The west site will bring more traffic onto Manito Boulevard – I’m not going to stand here and tell you it won’t – but even with more traffic coming that way, it will still be well within the capacity of the streets and the levels the city is okay with,” White said.

About 1,000 cars already drive down Manito Boulevard every day, White said. Locating Jefferson Elementary at the west end of Hart Field, off 37th Avenue, would add fewer than 200 cars a day.

“That’s still within acceptable local standards,” White said.

That set off another wave of protests and questions from the gym floor, and some homeowners wanted to know if the increase in traffic would then cut their property values.