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School board opts to move Jefferson west

Wed., Sept. 22, 2010, 10:05 p.m.

After a year of analysis, traffic and home sale surveys and hundreds of public comments, the Spokane school board has unanimously voted tonight to rebuild Jefferson Elementary School on the west side of Hart Field.

“We are not just looking at painting Jefferson or fixing the front steps, we are looking at what’s best for the children’s education” now and in the future, said Spokane school board member Rocky Treppiedi, adding that spending $2 to $4 million more in taxpayer money to build in the current location is not appropriate.

“For me, first and foremost is student safety,” said Jeff Bierman, another school board member.

After as many as six proposed options, it came down to two: rebuilding on the site of the existing building, along 37th Avenue and Grand Boulevard, which would require the purchase of eight additional properties and temporarily relocate students during construction; or put a new building on the west side of Hart Field, off Manito Boulevard, which would cost about $4 million less and be less disruptive to students.

Mark Anderson, assistant superintendent, further explained Wednesday that if they had to spend $4 million more to keep the school at the its current location, it was unclear where $2.5 million of that would come from.

“I believe this is the most widely studied project in the district in a long time, and that gives me confidence…for the west option,” said Garret Daggett, another board member.

About 60 people attended Wednesday’s board meeting, and 25 requested one last chance to state their preference for the school’s location.

Sally Fullmer, who favors keeping Jefferson at its current east-side location, told the board if the school is moved west, “there will be litigation on the bond, the deed and the environmental impact.”

Keeping the school on the east-side site would displace a doctor’s practice, force apartment residents to move and disrupt students in primary education. So, “Let’s put a face on this issue,” a speaker in favor of the west option pleaded with the board.

Neighborhood residents have argued for months – not always politely – over the best location for the school. Those opposed to the west-side location expressed worries about losing their green space – Hart Field, increased traffic and potential for decreased property values. Those opposed to the east side option worried about children’s safety on two busy arterials, and the added expense.

Although hundreds had already e-mailed their concerns and opinions about the east and west options, more than 60 people made their case in front of the school board last week during a community forum about where Jefferson should go.

“We have probably had five times the number of letters than we’ve had people come talk to us,” said Sue Chapin, school board president. But members said they’ve considered everyone’s thoughts.

Treppiedi scolded the public, saying that throughout the process, accusations were made that the board had already made up its mind to move west or that the administration was corrupt in its efforts to inform the board on the east and west options. Both of those statements are untrue, he said.

Planning for the school’s construction will begin next week. The actual construction could begin as soon as June 2012.

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