How’s this for some out-of-the-crate thinking?
Two months ago, Spokane dogs and their owners were howling over the potential loss of their beloved unofficial park on the South Hill.
In its place, the ongoing partnership between the city and Spokane Public Schools may produce a bigger and better dog park, with longer trails and less conflict with neighbors.
All of that is conditional on passage in six weeks of a $495 million school bond. Among other things, it includes three new middle schools.
One of them would sit on city-owned land adjacent to Mullan Road Elementary School and the site of the unofficial dog park near 65th Avenue that’s used by many.
The new enclosed park would be slightly larger than the current 14 1/2-acre parcel. It would include the western third of the existing site and stretch southward atop an old landfill site.
Even better for dogs, the trail would run seven-tenths of a mile, or slightly longer than the existing trail. Patrons would park in a lot south of the new school, away from nearby homes.
“It does look promising,” said David DeLong, a board member for Friends of the South Hill Dog Park, which this summer collected hundreds of signatures in response to the possible removal of the dog park.
“It surprised us how many signed the petition, but we were already under way on how to solve the problem,” said Rick Romero, who heads special projects for the city.
Meanwhile, the dog owners group reached out to the city and the school district. “We told them about our needs,” DeLong said.
“They were very receptive.”
The city and school district also didn’t roll over, but got straight to work.
After an initial meeting with City Council member Breean Beggs, it fell to Romero and Associate Schools Superintendent Mark Anderson to continue the partnership that led to the innovative bond measure that’s on the Nov. 6 ballot.
After exploring other options – including one at Lincoln Park – Romero and Anderson returned to square one.
While planning the bond proposal, Anderson had engaged NAC Architecture of Spokane to lay out options for the new middle school on 63rd Avenue.
After the school board approved the bond proposal, Anderson returned to NAC with a new challenge.
“I asked them, ‘Now could you come up with a configuration that would fit a middle school and a dog park?’ ” he said.
NAC offered three options. One was a much-smaller dog park that would nestle between Mullan Road Elementary and the new school. Another idea was to locate a roughly 10-acre park well south of both schools.
“I was super impressed that the school district and the city put so much work into these options,” DeLong said Thursday.
City and school officials preferred the largest option. So did the five-member board of Friends of the South Hill Dog Park, who forwarded the choices to their members via Facebook. That produced a mandate for the first choice.
“This isn’t just a place to walk your dogs,” said DeLong, who on Thursday morning was on the trail with his two Basenjis.
“This is a place where hundreds of people come. We all mix together and talk, and it’s a place where people also get their exercise.
“This might be the most used park in Spokane.”
If the bond wins the required 60 percent of votes cast, more work lies ahead.
“We’re literally just now at the point where we’ve gotten buy-in from everyone saying that this is the right choice,” Romero said.
The city must approve the plan, and engineers would need to assess the how much additional fill-dirt would be need to be added to the old landfill site.
Dog owners would like to see trees and a water source added to the new portion of the park.
Time is on their side. Anderson said that the South Hill middle school will be the last of three new buildings in the bond, which means that construction wouldn’t begin for about three years.
Romero stressed that the landfill is safe. It was capped 30 years ago with clean dirt and is covered by a membrane.
“I’ve talked with Ecology and the Department of Health, and they’re very supportive of the plan,” Romero said.
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