Spokane Public Schools presented a working draft of their "Site Study Report" to the School Board last night that has been prepared to assist the School Board in making its final selection of where the new Jefferson Elementary will be built.
As the meeting began shouts of "don't move Jefferson" and "save Hart Field" could be heard from the picketers outside the building.
Dr. Mark Anderson, Associate Superintendent led the presentation. He said that the west site and east site were both viable options but that there were significant differences between the two.
There were four major challenges that Dr. Anderson outlined with the east site:
1) The east site would have the school sitting on the corner of two arterials in a growing commercial district.
2) Housing the Jefferson students during construction would be tricky. 14 of the classrooms at Jefferson could be accommodated at Pratt Elementary (that has been closed) in Spokane Valley, but the other 10 classes would be spread out over 5 other elementary schools. The district would also not be able to house Hutton in the old Jefferson while Hutton is being updated. The district could possibly create a "portable school" to accommodate Jefferson and Hutton students during construction, but that would cost approximately $800,000.
3) The east option would involve acquiring eight properties lying directly north of the current Jefferson building to allow for enough room to move the school away from the intersection of 37th & Grand, create parent drop-off and bus zones, and still have ample room for a playground.
4) The east site would cost about $3.9 million more than the west site, primarily due to the costs to acquire the additional property and house students at different locations during construction.
The major challenge with the west site is community acceptance. Many of the neighbors surrounding Jefferson Elementary are vehemently opposed to moving the school, which is evident by the many yard signs declaring "Don't Move Jefferson" dotting the neighborhood west of the school. The school district admits that moving Jefferson westward would encroach on the neighborhood surrounding the west site and increase traffic in that area.
Many residents have voiced their feeling that living adjacent from Hart Field is like living near a park and that moving the school would ruin their views of what is currently "green space". The property study performed by a firm hired by the school district concluded that homes across from elementary schools do not sell for less than other homes in the same neighborhood. The school district has ordered a supplemental study to be done to determine whether houses in the Jefferson neighborhood that are adjacent to Hart Field sell for more than those that are not.
The district has said that if it moves the school west it will save as many of the ponderosa pines on that site as possible and also have the playground be on the very west end of the property to act as a buffer between the new building and residents living along Manito Blvd.
There was no mention at the meeting of the value of preserving the 102 year history that Jefferson Elementary enjoys. Many residents in the Jefferson neighborhood along with past alumni have created a group on Facebook called "Save Historical Jefferson Elementary School." No matter what option the school board decides on, the oldest part of Jefferson will remain since it is a historical landmark. Many residents in the neighborhood feel that the new school should tie into the old building to preserve the school's history. Spokane Southie spoke with Rebecca Copley via e-mail, one of the members of "Save Historical Jeferson", and she shared a letter that she read before the school board last spring, a portion of which is below:
We will gain so much through this Jefferson/Hart Field project-as a school, and as a community. But if we move our children away from our Jefferson building, we will lose a part of us, and our history, we can never regain. You tell us that the oldest part of the building will be saved no matter what decision is made. I do not believe this is enough. I believe that keeping a school building's "shell", purely to say you kept it, does not preserve the spirit of a community's school. Schools are intrinsically tied to our emotions. We do so much of our growing up within the walls of our schools. They are a symbol of a community and can be a great source of community pride. When you have a school that has been here as long as Jefferson has, you gain a history of community as well as an alumni pride that cannot be compared to the pride in a new school building. This history and pride are passed down to the current students and make a historic school a truly unique and special place to be able to call "my school".
There will be a public forum held at Jefferson Elementary on Sept. 15 @ 7pm before the school board makes its final decision.