May 21, 2010 in City

Neighbors act like school kids

Proposed building locations provoke protests
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Jefferson Elementary School fourth-graders Reyna Flores, Maya Bybee, Claire Woodard and Maya LeBar sign each other’s Tech Trek shirts Thursday before the start of the 19th annual fundraiser on the Hart Field track.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Map of this story's location

Decision delayed

A decision on what to do with the Jefferson Elementary and Hart Field bond projects has been pushed back so Spokane Public Schools can study the issue more thoroughly.

The district is studying traffic concerns and the impact of the different options on property values. In addition, the three original options have expanded into several variations.

Administrators were originally going to make a recommendation to the school board in late June. Now that won’t happen until late summer or early fall, the district says.

In the meantime, an open house scheduled for May 27 at Jefferson will be rescheduled to a later date.

It is a measure of how passionately silly the debate over Jefferson Elementary has grown that the school’s principal called in security for Thursday’s annual spring fundraiser, the Tech Trek.

Fortunately, the only things clouding the Tech Trek were the clouds.

But you could not blame Principal Mary-Dean Wooley for her concern, given the paranoid intensity over what to do next with 102 year-old Jefferson Elementary. With some $25 million in funds from a bond issue, the school district has proposed three options: remodel the current building at 37th and Grand; build a new school at the north end of Hart Field; or build a new school at the west end of Hart Field.

It is this final option that has set off a tizzy. People living along Manito Boulevard and 37th have roared into life, sticking “Don’t Move Jefferson” signs in their lawns and gathering signatures. The scenario is as familiar as they come: Neighbors object to a new development and drag in all manner of tangential concerns to bolster their essential complaint – Not in My Front Yard.

A couple of opponents went so far as to show up at an Easter egg hunt at Hart Field, displaying signs and trying to gather signatures, several sources said.

“It’s gotten really ugly,” said one resident, who asked to remain anonymous to keep peace among the neighbors. “There’s people screaming expletives at each other as they’re walking their kids to school.”

Opponents of the “west end” option have complained loud and long to school officials – who they then accuse of failing to listen to their complaints. They dismiss concerns over traffic at the current school, and raise a variety of other red flags, ranging from the impact on the “historic Manito Boulevard corridor” to the loss of 50 trees and acres of athletic fields. They’ve also struck some conspiratorial themes: the school district has already made up its mind; the school district has a secret plan for the current Jefferson; teachers and administrators and even crossing guards are shilling for the west end option. …

I don’t want to carry water for the district. Perhaps it is, in fact, a Snidely Whiplash enterprise. But this seems paranoid. The district is holding meetings, has expanded its options in response to criticisms, and is adding studies of traffic and property values. If the district is ignoring neighbors, it’s going to a lot of time and effort to pretend that it’s not.

Mark Anderson, associate superintendent and a member of the committee that will make a recommendation to the school board, says it’s “totally inaccurate” to say the committee has made up its mind.

“We’re still in the study mode,” he said. “We haven’t made a decision on which option is the best.”

The opponents simply refuse to believe this. Jacqui Halvorson, whose mother taught at Jefferson and whose kids went there, says, “They have plans for the existing Jefferson buildings that they are not revealing to the public.”

And so, of course, opponents scoff at the notion that most people who have commented to the district actually support the west end option. The district says that out of 284 people who have so far written letters or e-mails or filled out an online form, some 65 percent favor the west end. That doesn’t include verbal comments at open houses or group letters.

Sally Fullmer, who has helped organize opposition, says they’ve gathered some 900 signatures in favor of keeping the school where it is. At a recent Comstock Neighborhood Council meeting, a large majority of the 75 people who turned up voted the same way.

I can’t say which option is best. But is it such an awful fate to have a school in your neighborhood? I can understand railing against the coming of a Walmart – but raging against K-5?

Opponents say there is just no need to move the school.

“For me, the fact that they’re moving an elementary school into an established neighborhood, a neighborhood that’s about 100 years old, on Manito Boulevard, which is a recreational route for many bikers and families and joggers – a school and traffic and buses and all that goes with it, it just doesn’t make any sense,” Halvorson said.

That may be so. But Abby Roose, the mother of a Jefferson first-grader in the Montessori program, makes a compelling point: The concerns of the neighbors shouldn’t be the main priority of the school board. She says the issues with traffic and pedestrian safety at 37th and Grand make the west end the best choice.

“In the end, their responsibility is to ensure the best education for our kids,” she said. “It’s not to protect the property values for people who live near school property.”

Ah, yes. The kids. They were out walking the track Thursday afternoon, raising money and wearing their Tech Trek T-shirts and winning prizes and doing the “hand jive,” clouds be damned. Every now and then, the security guard came walking by as well, with not one thing – thankfully – to do.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.net.


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