Reverse All Engines! Alert Citizens Ahead!
There was no benevolence in the Board of Trustees' decision.
What the papers did not report was that the School District had failed to seek input from the community members who live around Persons Field when the idea of acquiring the park was first raised over two years ago.
What the papers did not report was that on April 19, 2005, the Coeur d'Alene City Council, on a motion by Dixie Reid and seconded by Ben Wolfinger, voted unanimously (Council members Woody McEvers, Deanna Goodlander, Al Hassell, Ben Wolfinger, Dixie Reid, and Ron Edinger voting "aye") to approve Resolution 05-031. That resolution included a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Coeur d'Alene and School District #271 to pursue an equitable agreement whereby the east portion of Persons Field (3.235 acres), which is owned by the City, will ultimately be conveyed to SD 271. The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Mayor Sandi Bloem with her signature notarized on April 19, 2005. It was also signed by Wanda Quinn, President, Board of Trustees, with her signature notarized on August 1, 2005. In other words, nearly eight months ago, the Coeur d'Alene Mayor and City Council had agreed the City was going to convey Persons Field to the School District.
What the papers did not report was that at its meeting on May 2, 2005, the Coeur d'Alene School District Board of Trustees voted to approve for signature the Memorandum of Understanding re: City of Coeur d'Alene/Lakes Middle School. The motion was offered by Sid Frederickson and seconded by Christie Wood. The motion passed 5-0-0 with Chair Quinn and Trustees Wood, Frederickson, Zipperer, and Newby voting in favor.
What the papers did not report was that at its regularly scheduled meeting on November 8, 2005, the Coeur d'Alene City Planning Commission held a public hearing to consider items SP-11-05 and V-1-05. These agenda items comprised a request by Patano Architects, on behalf of School District 271, for the Commission to approve "...a Community Education Special Use Permit to allow the construction of the new Lakes Middle School which will replace the existing middle school at 15th and Hastings and a 6 1/4 foot height variance from the allowed height of 43 1/4 feet for a non-rsidential use in the R-12 (Residential at 12 units/acre) zoning district." After hearing considerable testimony from School Superintendent Harry Amend and architect Mike Patano and Jon Mueller, the neighbors who use Persons Field as their city park and live near it lined up to speak in opposition. Though it was a city park at stake, Parks Director Doug Eastwood was not present at the hearing to answer Commissioners' questions.
There were some significant revelations during sworn testimony before the Planning Commission on November 8, 2005. In this exchange between Planning Commissioner Mary Souza and Superintendent Amend:
Souza: "Has there not been any public hearings or opportunities for the neighborhood to give their input?"
Amend: "This is, um, of course, our Long Range Planning Committee meetings are open to the public, but usually people don't come to those that aren't part of the Committee. What we consider the planning process where the community would be involved is starting now. We did announce, though, in the spring, it was covered in both papers, that the plan was to build the new Lakes at Persons Field."
Souza: "But the plans for this particular project have not been shared with the public until tonight?"
Amend: "That is correct. Yup."
So with the April 19, 2005, Memorandum of Understanding the deal was done between the City and the School District. Persons Field was going to be the site of the new Lakes Middle School, but the School Superintendent would avoid getting surrounding community members involved until November 8, 2005!
Another exchange between Commissioner Bowlby and Superintendent Amend revealed that the School District had not yet made a decision about how the old Lakes Middle School property would be used if Persons Field was conveyed to the District. Commissioner Bowlby asked if the School District retained ownership of the old Lakes Middle School property, would the District be committed enough to create some open space (to replace the space lost with the District's acquisition of the City's portion of Persons Field) in the Lakes Middle School existing area.
Amend: "No, but yeah, and I think that would, um, if that would, and that part of the question would be, if the District sold the building, would they keep some of the site available? Yeah. I have not had that conversation with the Board. "
In the two years of planning for the remodeling or relocation of Lakes Middle School, why hadn't the Superintendent had a conversation with the Board of Trustees about the use of the old Lakes Middle School property if the District relocated the school to the Persons Field site? And how could the Superintendent and Board of Trustees reasonably expect voters to approve a $40-$50 million school plant facility levy without knowing how the District intended to use or dispose of the old Lakes property?
During the Planning Commission hearing, City Associate Planner John Stamsos chimed in with this revelation:
Stamsos: "Keep in mind that as one of the owners of the property, the City did sign this application, which essentially means that they're, well, they're invested in it and they're okay with the application going forward." In other words, the Planning Commission whose members had not seen the April 19, 2005, resolution and MOU before the November 8, 2005, meeting was being asked to rule on an application to which the City itself was an interested party. Furthermore, if the Planning Commission recommended against approving the application for the Community Education Special Use Permit (as it ultimately did), the applicants (Patano Architects representing SD 271) could appeal that decision to the Coeur d'Alene City Council, the same City Council that on April 19, 2005, had already approved the MOU agreeing to give up Persons Field.
And without knowing the Mayor and City Council had already made the City an interested party to the Special Use Permit application, what did the Planning Commission members do? They listened to sworn witnesses, they asked excellent questions, and they voted to recommend rejecting the application based on the following findings:
- Finding B8A: "That this proposal is not in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan policies." Specifically, the Commission found it deficient on policy 18B1, that parks, open space, and recretational facilities should be provided for neighborhoods as well as for the community; on policy 51A, that it did not sufficiently protect and preserve neighborhoods both old and new; and on policy 51A5, that residential neighborhood residential land uses should be protected from intrusion of incompatible land uses and their effects.
- Finding B8B: "The design and planning of the site is not compatible with the location, setting, and existing uses on adjacent properties."
- Finding B8C: "The location, design, and size of the proposal are such that the development will not be adequately served by existing streets, public facilities, and services."
At the hearing's conclusion, the Planning Commission voted 3 in favor and 2 opposed (Commissioner Jordan was absent) on a motion by Commissioner Rasor, seconded by Commissioner Messina, to deny without prejudice the Community Education Special Use Permit.
Following what was probably an unexpected defeat before the City Planning Commission, the School District held a public meeting for the community at Lakes Middle School on November 28, 2005. The newspapers reported that approximately 50 community members attended. The meeting was moderated by Superintendent Harry Amend. Lakes Principal Chris Hammons and Patano Architects Mike Patano heard questions and comments from the community. One would have thought that in the intervening 20 days between the Planning Commission defeat and this meeting, the School District would have got its stories straight and its act together and have been fully prepared to answer any and all reasonable questions and concerns raised by the community. But that's not what happened.
Even with the School District's Chief Financial Officer, Steve Briggs, present, Superintendent Amend was unable to explain the expected costs of the project or its alternatives without being led through it by one of the community opponents!
The School District's transportation officer was notably absent, so questions and concerns about traffic changes in the neighborhood around the proposed new Lakes Middle School went unanswered and unaddressed.
One audience member asked if community members would be able to freely access the new Lakes Middle School playfields as easily and openly as they could access Persons Field now. The audience member explained that at another school in the District, he and some friends had been playing football on the school field and were asked to leave by the local police. He wanted to know if the police would also run them off the fields at the new Lakes Middle School. It happens that Principal Hammons was at the podium when this question was asked. Principal Hammons' answer was evasive; that the School District would strive to be good neighbors with the neighborhood. It would have been appropriate, even expected, that Superintendent Amend would interject at this point and explain the School District's policy regarding public use of District school playfields, but he sat silent and allowed Principal Hammons to twist slowly, slowly in the wind.
The appeal to the City Council was filed by Patano Architects on November 9, 2005, and the appeal was ultimately scheduled to be heard by the City Council at the regularly scheduled Council meeting on December 6, 2005. But at the School District trustee meeting on Monday, December 5, 2005, the District elected to withdraw the appeal.
As opined earlier, withdrawing the appeal and leaving (for now) Persons Field as a city park was not an act of community charity by the School District. It seems much more likely that the School District, remembering the defeat of the $50 million Kootenai County jail expansion issue in the November 2005 general election, probably came to realize that if it pushed too hard for Persons Field, the voters in the School District might vote down the entire school plant facility levy. So the District decided to cut its losses and withdraw the appeal. The newspaper quotes in today's papers from School District trustees were, well, self-serving spin.
I suspect that over the years the Coeur d'Alene School District, like the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department, has come to take for granted voter support for more funding . Maybe funding was a done deal in the past, but the times they are a-changing. The Mayor and Council of the City of Coeur d'Alene and the Kootenai County Commissioners have got their wish: More and more people are moving here from other places. The result? We who have not lived here all our lives (and many, including some of the folks around Persons Field who have) are unwilling to any longer accept the word of elected and appointed officials without question. We don't owe them political allegiance, we aren't impressed by their family lineage or political connections, and we sure as hell aren't going to be intimidated by them.