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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

Pet owners, officials seek common ground on contested South Hill dog park at packed meeting

Aug. 24, 2021 Updated Tue., Aug. 24, 2021 at 9:31 p.m.

Tom Nesbitt visits with dog walker Gloria Riggers on Friday as their dogs enjoy an off-leash experience at the South Hill dog park behind Mullan Road Elementary School. The park will soon be closed to make room for a new middle school.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Tom Nesbitt visits with dog walker Gloria Riggers on Friday as their dogs enjoy an off-leash experience at the South Hill dog park behind Mullan Road Elementary School. The park will soon be closed to make room for a new middle school. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

There was no lack of dog analogies to describe what happened during a community meeting Tuesday night at Mullan Road Elementary School.

The topic of discussion, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 150, was the beloved off-leash dog park that sits next door, which will be closed in a few weeks to make way for the new Carla Peperzak Middle School.

The night ended with more questions than answers and a feeling by most of the dog owners that they were being thrown a rather small bone.

The meeting opened with a presentation by Spokane Public Schools, which offered two options for a temporary dog park while the district and the city of Spokane pursue a long-term option.

The most plausible option – a 5-acre parcel south of the elementary school – still seemed insufficient for the two- and four-legged creatures who are accustomed to wandering 15 acres, speakers said.

One dog owner worried that a smaller park would lead to more fighting among the dogs.

However, the biggest disconnect was one of trust. One of the attendees recalled the announcement in the summer of 2018 of the city-district partnership that led to passage of the landmark $495 million capital bond.

Having been promised some comparable replacement for the current park, he said he was skeptical even then.

But another man said he and friends trusted the process – until the news last month that the school and dog park would be unable to access some of the adjacent landfill because of settling.

Back at square one after three years, school district and city officials tried to find some common ground.

“We are wanting to be partners with the community and are committed to working through solutions to the dog park,” said Shawn Jordan, chief operations officer for the school district.

After acknowledging that the old plan wasn’t feasible, Jordan shared the options.

However, most attendees were focused on finding long-term solutions to replace a park that’s been used for 30 years – and not just by South Hill residents.

Several people talked about how they were willing to drive up to 30 minutes to use the off-leash park. At that point, the conversation moved farther afield, to what some called the lack of decent dog parks in the rest of the city.

Garrett Jones, director of Spokane Parks and Recreation, said he understood the demand for dog parks. Then he explained the process that could eventually lead to selection of a site.

One man took the microphone, walked up to the stage and suggested using the 9 acres of Hamblen Park in addition to the 5-acre school property.

However, Jones reminded everyone that any choice will involve a process.

After 90 minutes, the meeting broke up. Attendees filled out comment cards, seemingly intent on keeping the city and the school district on a short leash.

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