September 15, 2010 in City

School board gets an earful during Jefferson forum

By The Spokesman-Review

The battle over the future of Spokane’s Jefferson Elementary School remained heated Wednesday.

More than 200 people attended a public forum before the Spokane School Board, many making their case for where the school should be rebuilt and how that could affect the adjoining Hart Field.

“No cheering or jeering,” said Sue Chapman, board president, warning the crowd. “I know we have a lot of emotion in this room. We are here to listen, we expect that from you.”

The two options: the east side, which would require the purchase of eight additional properties and temporarily relocate students during construction; and the west side, off Manito Boulevard, which would cost about $4 million less and keep students put, but would anger neighbors – some of whom have threatened to sue the district.

The west “is the safest option, it minimizes the interruption in education and it saves big dollars,” said neighbor Clay Hatch. “They want you to preserve their park, and not do what’s best for our children.”

A neighbor advocating for the east option said, “I would like you to get out of your car, feel the peacefulness and consider the imprint the school would make. Once the dream place is gone, you can’t get it back.”

Wednesday was the first public forum dedicated to the issue. More than 60 speakers signed up to talk, and each had three minutes.

Concerns by neighbors ranged from traffic problems to children’s safety to potential drops in property values.

Becky Heacox, who has been vocal on keeping the school in its location, brought pictures to show what residents on Manito Boulevard look at now – fir trees and grass, versus a building.

She also argued moving the school to the west was not the safest because students will still have to cross Grand Boulevard.

“The safest and wisest option is what voters intended: renovate Jefferson,” Heacox said. “Being cheap isn’t what’s best for our children”

Spokane Public Schools administrators have looked at traffic and home sale studies, considered construction costs and fielded hundreds of comments over the past year.

The traffic and home sale studies were presented late last month at a public meeting attended by more than 100 people. Results indicated that moving the school to the west would not affect home sales, and traffic would increase in the Manito neighborhood by about 167 vehicles per day.

But supporters of keeping the school in its current location are skeptical.

Many who spoke pointed out that the obligation of the board is to do what’s best for the children and not cave to pressure from a few unhappy members in the community.

“I challenge the school board to offer our children the safest environment in which to learn, off of arterials and away from commercial development,” said Sarah Bain. “I challenge you to lay aside your anger and choose instead to marvel out your windows at the beauty of what childhood has to offer.”

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