School Board Says No To Downtown Site, Chooses Albi

Dec 12, 2018

The Spokane School Board decided against pursuing a partnership with the Public Facilities District for its proposed high school sports stadium.
Credit Spokane Public Facilities District

The Spokane School Board has made a long-anticipated decision about a new high school sports facility. The vote came Wednesday night after a presentation in which the school district was invited to partner in a downtown sports complex.

Going into the school meeting, there were a few things that were clear. Voters want the Spokane School District to build a new stadium for football and soccer. And they want it at the site of Joe Albi Stadium in northwest Spokane and not downtown.

But since the vote, a new idea for a downtown facility has emerged. The Spokane Public Facilities District is in the final planning stages for a $42 million indoor multi-sport complex to be built a block east of the Spokane Arena. Its CEO, Stephanie Curran, pitched an idea to the school board.

“We’re both building a building that’s almost the same size, almost the same price, potentially next to each other or within a few miles of each other," she said. "What if we built one building instead? What would that look like?”

The new Sportsplex will have a 200-meter banked track for indoor track meets, room for up to 17 volleyball courts, up to 10 basketball courts, up to 21 wrestling mats and the ability to handle several different sporting and cultural events.

“Could we make it a little bit wider, a little bit taller, could we roll turf out, because there’s major technology in turf now that’s NFL-approved. It’s not like a green carpet like you’d see in a gym. It’s actual NFL specs turf. Could we do this and partner?” Curran said.

And, presumably, save the taxpayers millions of dollars that, she said, could be returned to taxpayers or used for an academic purpose. Though Curran says the facilities district is ready to roll on its project, it can afford to take a couple of months to work out the logistics of a combined facility and to sell the proposal to the community.

School board member Deana Brower said she was intrigued and urged her colleagues to keep an open mind.

“It would seem that we should do our due diligence and explore this option, reserving still the right to go our separate ways. I don’t see a sense of urgency and there’s still more information to come forward,” Brower said.

Her board colleague, Mike Wiser, agreed and so did several members of the public who testified, including Victor Frazier.

“I was pretty much opposed to a stadium downtown," Frazier said. "However, last week when I read the paper and I saw this idea about the Sportsplex field house, I knew that was going to be another entity downtown. So I realized, this is something. I think it’s quite exciting, the potential and what Eric Sawyer and Stephanie Curran have laid out is worth research.”

But, as in many areas of life, timing is everything.

“I wish we would have had this conversation six months ago. It would have opened up so many doors for us,” said board member Brian Newberry, who expressed some regret over how the stadium advisory ballot was presented to voters.

“If I could rewind the clock," he said. "We didn’t have any input in how the ballot was written. The specificity of the ballot makes it truly a challenge and, as I look at that infant back there, I think that what we do going forward, the consequence of breaking trust with the public will outlive that child making it through high school because trust is something that takes a long time to get back.”

Newberry’s concerns were shared by board members Jerrall Haynes and Sue Chapin. She dug through the advisory vote’s results at the micro level.

“Of the 143 precincts 15 precincts favored the downtown North Bank location and 128 precincts favored the northside current Albi location,” Chapin said.

Those that supported downtown, she said, cover the most economically well-off neighborhoods. Meanwhile, in the other precincts, levels of support for the Albi site reached as high as 80%.

“To me it’s a clear message," Chapin said. "Voters told us that they want a stadium for the school district to build and they told us where they want it. To me, that 64.3% is a very clear message.”

When it was time to vote, Chapin, Haynes and Newberry voted to pass on the Sportsplex and move forward at Albi. They were joined by Mike Wiser, who said, although he prefers to pursue the indoor stadium idea, that it would only work if the board was unified in support. And, on Wednesday night, it wasn’t.