The Spokane Community College clock tower, which once appeared destined for the wrecking ball to make way for a new freeway, is not only sticking around, but may get a facelift.
The 84-foot-tall clock tower was once thought to be in the path of the North Spokane Corridor, the 10.5-mile highway that is currently under construction from Hillyard to SCC. Construction is scheduled to finish in 2029.
The clock tower was spared, however, following back-and-forth discussions with the Washington state Department of Transportation, which ultimately led to an understanding by early 2020 that the clock tower would stay put, Spokane Community College President Kevin Brockbank said.
The clock tower’s future was apparently assured about eight years ago when project engineers decided to reduce plans of an eight-lane raised freeway down to six, according to WSDOT spokesperson Ryan Overton.
While the purchases to finalize the construction right-of-way were not finalized until 2020, Overton said there were several meetings with SCC prior to that during which “we confirmed the clock tower would not be coming down.”
“It did actually change a bunch of times over the last five years really whether it was going to stay or whether it was going to go,” said Brockbank, SCC’s president since 2017. “There were a couple of different camps. Some people were really heartbroken about the idea of losing it, and I think other people were looking at it as an opportunity for a different landmark.”
The clock tower, designed by local architect Jerry Ressa, was built with the 1975 expansion of the main entrance into Spokane Community College, according to the Spokane Historical Society.
The structure will serve as a visible landmark particularly for drivers who will use the North Spokane Corridor once the freeway is complete, Brockbank said. With that in mind, Brockbank said the college will go through a process for the campus community to decide how to give the tower a new look.
For one, the clock tower is an example of blocky and concrete brutalist architecture, a style that doesn’t much jive with the rest of the campus – specifically the recent $25 million renovation of SCC’s main building along Mission Avenue.
Recognizing that some current and former staff members and students have connections to the clock tower, Brockbank said he doesn’t believe the structure “aesthetically represents the college and what we do today.”
“We want prospective students and community members to recognize the college is current and progressive with what we’re doing,” he said. “The clock tower needs a little updating for that reason.”
In the past, a lawn and some benches made the clock tower a popular spot and a cultural landmark for the campus community, said Bill Rambo, who has worked in the Community Colleges of Spokane system for 30 years.
With the North Spokane Corridor construction, the lawn and benches have given way to gravel. The clock hasn’t worked for some time.
“I think it’s such an important piece of what Spokane Community College is,” said Rambo, a professor in the SCC counseling department. “A caveat with that is if they’re not going to fix it, they should take it down because it’s an eyesore the way it is right now.”
Communication studies instructor Linda Seppa Salisbury remembers teaching a class alongside her late husband, Bert Salisbury, more than 30 years ago on interpersonal relationships, with topics including commitment and marriage. Two weeks after that particular class, two of the students – who had been a longtime couple – got engaged in front of the clock tower.
The engagement was just one of many special events that took place at the clock tower in its heyday, she said. So for Seppa Salisbury, who plans to retire next year after more than four decades of teaching at SCC, the tower “is more than a clock tower.”
“It’s a reminder of what a great school (SCC) is,” she said. “I think it would be great to find a way to have it be seen from the freeway. That might kind of light the way of, ‘there’s a college down here.’ ”
The community process toward refurbishing the clock tower’s look could begin this fall, Brockbank said. “Refurbish” is the operative word, as Brockbank said whatever happens won’t involve a complete teardown and rebuild.
The exact nature of the collaborative process has not been decided, said Brockbank, who listed working with a local architect or organizing a campuswide contest as some possible ideas.
“It’s an opportunity for us to catch people’s attention and recognize what opportunities are there,” Brockbank said. “I don’t think the way that it currently sits – it’s a nonfunctional clock in a concrete tower – is representative of what happens on our campus every day.”
Work to watch for
Starting next week, North River Drive will be closed at Washington Street just north of downtown for sidewalk installation, stormwater improvements and grind and overlay of the existing street surface.
The $1 million project is funded with local money. Access to all businesses will come off Division Street.
The westbound curb lane of Boone Avenue between Normandie and Washington streets will be closed Monday through Friday.
The shoulder of Glennaire Drive and Willamette Street on the upper South Hill will be closed from Monday through Friday.
Flaggers will be in place on 14th Avenue between Division and Grand streets from Monday through March 18 for track utilities work.