On a warm Thursday morning at the South Hill dog park, owners unleashed their animals.
Then they unleashed on the city and the school district, which the night before approved a $495 million bond request whose centerpiece is the addition of three new middle schools – one which would displace their wooded playground behind Mullan Road Elementary School.
Spokane resident Kim King vented while playing fetch with Ava, her 5-year-old Rottweiler.
“Where are we going to exercise our dogs?” asked King, a regular visitor to the 13-acre park.
“If they close this park and don’t give us an alternative, people will take their dogs to the city, which will cause more problems with kids and safety.”
A few feet away, 30-year South Hill resident Claudia Craven took in the scene.
Three times a week, Craven brings 11-year-old “Mickey the Mutt” to frolic with the other dogs.
“There’s plenty of space for them to run and cavort, and it helps them physically and with socialization,” Craven said.
Asked what she’ll do if the park is replaced with a school, Craven paused.
“I’ll weep, probably,” she said.
That moment is about two years away, but still a certainty if voters approve the bond issue on Nov. 6. Meanwhile, the city and school district will seek new sites for a dog park.
The mood was lightened a few minutes later with the arrival of Thyer and Carlene Myren and their quartet of lush-coated Bernese Mountain Dogs – 500 pounds of canine interaction was hard to ignore.
While the animals cavorted, their owners commiserated.
“It’s a great space, and most of the dogs that come here are really well-behaved,” said Thyer Myren, who drove to the park from Eagle Ridge.
“If you’re going to ruin a great community place like this, it had better be for a very good reason,” Myren said.
That reason is education. Faced with overcrowded schools but presented with a rare financial opportunity following last year’s McCleary court decision, Spokane Public Schools is moving forward on the bond request. Using city-owned land makes the project even more affordable.
Mullan Road wasn’t the district’s first choice. Early plans called for a new school near the Qualchan Golf Course. That would have meant transporting about 500 students from the South Hill, up and down the steep grade of Hatch Road.
The dog owners’ conversation was a carryover from Wednesday night, when the Spokane City Council and the Spokane Public Schools board heard from several dog owners objecting to the loss of the park.
“Some of us do not have children, at least not human children,” speaker Glenn Ritter said. “We have four-legged children. And I gotta tell you, that park is a jewel.”
City officials also were presented with a petition bearing the signatures of about 100 dog owners.
In fact, the land isn’t even designated as a park. Officially, it’s the “Southside Landfill Buffer Zone,” which was established 30 years ago following the closure of an adjacent landfill.
The park already has seen trouble. Responding to complaints from neighbors about graffiti and irresponsible dog owners, the city is closing two of the three entrances to the park.
“We’ve been working to address these issues,” said Marlene Feist, the strategic development director for the city.
By week’s end, access will be limited to the dirt road leading from 65th Avenue at the southeast corner of the park.
Feist also noted that the land has “never been designated as an off-leash approved area,” meaning that dog owners have been breaking the law for decades.
Of course, those laws were never enforced.
“It is a bit of a gray zone,” Feist said.
For dog owners, the black-and-white reality is that they’ll likely need a new home. The city and school district promise to work diligently to make that happen.
“I think the city and the schools would be happy to look at alternatives,” said Feist, who mentioned the possibility of using a portion of Comstock Park.
In the meantime, associate superintendent Mark Anderson said the dog park would remain open at least until the school’s design is complete and construction is poised to begin.
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