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‘Children at the forefront’: New Sacajawea Middle School groundbreaking signals brighter days ahead after two pandemic years

UPDATED: Tue., March 22, 2022

Eli Roe, 10, smiles for a picture while wearing a hard hat and holding a shovel after participating in the ceremonial groundbreaking at Sacajawea Middle School. Roe was invited to the groundbreaking to represent the first group of students who will attend the new Sacajawea when it opens in fall 2023.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Eli Roe, 10, smiles for a picture while wearing a hard hat and holding a shovel after participating in the ceremonial groundbreaking at Sacajawea Middle School. Roe was invited to the groundbreaking to represent the first group of students who will attend the new Sacajawea when it opens in fall 2023. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

A damp, chilly Tuesday morning hardly seemed like the setting for end-of-the-tunnel moment.

But it felt that way at Sacajawea Middle School, where the band was playing, the drill team was dancing and the gym was packed for the first time in more than two years.

The occasion, officially, was the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Sacajawea.

But, after two years of remote learning, contact tracing and face coverings, it felt like much more.

“The last two years have definitely shown us how central the school house is and how much we are depended on to help families,” Principal Tracey Leyde told the crowd.

“We look forward to a new, beautiful space, thoughtfully and carefully designed with our children at the forefront of every single decision they made,” Leyde said.

Most of the audience – the seventh- and eighth-graders sitting in the bleachers of Sac’s 62-year-old gym – will be in high school by the time the new building opens in the fall of 2023.

But they cheered just the same, as speakers reminded them that their younger siblings, and perhaps one day their children and grandchildren, will learn in the new building.

“This is a reflection of how amazing this school is,” said Adam Swinyard, the superintendent of Spokane Public Schools and a former Sacajawea principal.

Nikki Lockwood, vice-president of the school board, thanked those who spent several years “working through how to make the middle school experience better.”

“One thing we heard loud and clear was the need for a sense of connection and involvement for every student,” Lockwood said.

Entertainment was provided by the Sacajawea band and later by the drill team as students cheered.

Finally came the groundbreaking ceremony – complete with gilded shovels and piles of dirt atop a black tarp.

The first person to grab a shovel was Eli Roe, fourth-grader at Jefferson Elementary School who will be among the first students at the new school.

After the dirt was turned, a rendering of the new school was unveiled.

Outside, contractor Lydig Construction of Spokane had already placed a trailer and construction equipment on the parking lot facing Grand Boulevard.

Work will begin immediately on the $49 million school, which was designed by ALSC Architects of Spokane.

The new Sacajawea will hug the northeast corner of the property, with varied exteriors to replace the solid brick profile of the current building.

An exterior of predominantly brown brick is mean to blend with older buildings nearby.

Classrooms will be contained in two-story “neighborhoods,” one for each grade level, a theme used in the nearly-complete projects at Shaw and Glover middle schools.

Schematics of the interior reveal a student entry that leads into a lounge area. Beyond that lies a spacious commons that’s a smaller version of the one at Lewis and Clark.

The project is paid for by a $495 million capital bond approved by Spokane voters in 2018. It will open in the fall of 2023 to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, who will then move on to Lewis and Clark High School.

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