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Spokane school board to hear new sports stadium proposal

Dec. 11, 2018 Updated Tue., Dec. 11, 2018 at 9:57 p.m.

Joe Albi Stadium is shown Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 during a high school football game, the most common use for the venerable stadium. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Joe Albi Stadium is shown Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 during a high school football game, the most common use for the venerable stadium. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Public Schools board suddenly faces more choices than ever on a new sports stadium.

The issue appeared to be decided in an advisory vote Nov. 6, when 64 percent of city voters said they preferred that the $31 million replacement for Albi Stadium be built on the current site and not in the downtown area.

However, the board has agreed to hear a new proposal Wednesday night from the Spokane Sports Commission and the Spokane Public Facilities District for an enhanced Sportsplex and indoor stadium.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the district’s downtown offices.

“The bottom line is that we’re inviting the school district to be a part of the Sportsplex design team and consider this as a third option,” said Sports Commission President Eric Sawyer, who will make the presentation along with PFD President Stephanie Curran.

Following the presentation, the public will be allowed to comment. After that, board members are expected to ask for details.

Few exist at this point, but Sawyer’s goal is to be given enough time to be able to come back in a few months with a preliminary design and a firm estimate on the savings from a combined facility.

“We need to go through a process,” Sawyer said. “We’re convinced that there’s a significant savings, but we’re not sure how much.”

The previously approved $42 million indoor Sportsplex, which is in the preliminary design phase, will occupy land east of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena and the Spokane Civic Theatre, and just north of the Spokane River.

With an outdoor stadium no longer on the table following last month’s election, the PFD is studying the feasibility of adding artificial turf and other improvements to accommodate football, soccer and other large-field sports.

Following the presentation and public comment, the board appears to have several options:

    Vote down the proposal and proceed with a 5,000-seat replacement for Albi Stadium on the current site, as voters recommended.

    Give the PFD a timeline to develop firmer numbers, renderings and other details before making a final decision on whether to commit to the project.

    Approve the PFD proposal immediately.

    Call for a binding vote, perhaps in February, to give voters a chance to choose between the Albi site and the indoor option.

    Ask district staff to study the merits of both proposals, including the long-term revenues from expanded playing fields at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex for either option.

The all-in-one complex has the potential to save millions of dollars, but also to raise the ire of voters who backed the Albi option.

After noting last week the voters gave 67 percent approval to a $495 million bond, the largest in district history, school board member Jerrall Haynes said that “ruining that trust over a stadium is a hard, hard sell.”

During that meeting, Haynes and board President Sue Chapin voted against hearing the indoor stadium proposal, but the motion carried 3-2 on “yes” votes by Deana Brower, Mike Wiser and Brian Newberry.

Both Haynes and Newberry said it would take a “monumental” presentation to sway them toward giving the go-ahead for further analysis of the combined facility.

That’s all the PFD is seeking for now: time to firm up numbers, produce renderings and offer a clearly defined vision.

For many on both sides, lack of visuals clouded the downtown stadium proposal even before the issue was placed on the ballot.

Based on the district’s tentative timetable for the planning and construction of six new and replacement middle schools, a definitive answer wouldn’t be needed until late spring, Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson told the board last week.

However, Chapin worries time is an issue. Scheduled to represent the district for a bond presentation next month, she told colleagues, “as I prepare to go to San Francisco and pitch our district’s bond to Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s, I’d like to be able to say that we are implementing what our voters asked us to do.”

Brower isn’t sure voters spoke with one voice, or that all voices were heard.

While saying she “takes very seriously” the results of the election, Brower said she believes many voters were confused about the vote and that district stakeholders outside city limits weren’t allowed to vote.

Citing the unique partnership between the city and school district in bringing the bond to voters, Brower said, “We are trailblazing here, and the process wasn’t perfect.”

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