SPOKANE, Wash. — Tensions ran high at what was supposed to be an informal meeting between city leaders and community members on Tuesday evening at the new Carla Peperzak Middle School on Spokane's South Hill.
The South Hill Dog Park, one of the area's largest dog parks, is closing in a few months, and that is not sitting well with people who use the park. Community members showed up at the KREM 2 studios on Tuesday afternoon to figure out what was going on.
Protesters stood outside former Mullan Road Elementary and asked why them, as well as KREM 2's Morgan Trau, couldn't go in to hear the discussion. After 15 minutes of arguing, they were allowed in.
"I got 2,000 people following me on Facebook, on our dog park page," Dog Park representative Daniel Ward said. "I will have people go into the school without their dog poopy bags, I have no problem with that because that's how I feel we have been dealt with."
What compels someone to threaten letting their dog defecate inside a middle school and also threaten bringing legal action against the City? Well, that answer lies in a highly impassioned meeting between the City, Spokane Public Schools and a few representatives from the South Hill Dog Park.
"We've been dumped on before, and that's what is scary," dog park user and KREM 2 viewer Ed Newman said. "They never did say, 'yes, we will have you a place before we close this.'"
The around 15-acre South Hill Dog Park is a prized possession to Newman and thousands of other community members in and around Spokane. With the addition of the new SPS school, that park may cease to exist. A huge concern was the lack of information regarding the park and the future school, but the City said they have not issued any information because it is far too early in the planning process.
Director of Parks and Recreation Garrett Jones, Public Works Director Marlene Feist and SPS Director of Capital Projects and Planning Greg Forsyth each spoke to the about 20 South Hill Dog Park fans.
"I don't want to short the public outreach component of identifying what will be the best possible site prematurely," Jones said.
That was another reason why the meeting was originally invitation only. The meeting was just to hear from representatives from the Park before they open up to public discussion, which they assured they will be doing. The current dog park is not part of the city's property, Jones shared. Once that space was acquired by SPS, they are just following the momentum to help give the park goers more options.
"What's your plan to get this feedback that we need to let you know that as a community this is what we need a want?" asked Park representative Linda Valentine.
They will be going to community events, utility bills will have a flyer with information on the survey and masterplan, working with media outlets to get the information of the public works survey out where people can give public input, utilizing social media and printing out paper copies, Jones responded.
"I kind of feel like I have a special dog in this fight," Park Representative David Delong said. "I personally went on TV and said, 'support the bond.'"
Delong was approached to give an interview on if he supported the levies to approve the expansion of the SPS district, he said.
"I said, 'I have a good faith belief that the school district and the City will find us a reasonable alternative to our current location. Therefore, I feel good in endorsing the bond,'" he added. "Now that we're coming around to the end, I feel like the school district is doing the exact thing I told the people they wouldn't do, and that kind of stings. It feels like government lying. And it's, it's a bad feeling."
The park isn't just for dogs, it is also for everyone in the community, he said.
"You've got this large group, all these baby boomers without kids, they have dogs, walking their dogs at the dog park and talking with each other," he continued. "Me personally, it's my main social contact.
"For many of the people there, it's their main social contact, and it's their main exercise program. So you have all these people, and just take away this thing that's so important, that they've been using for so many years. You kick them to the curb, it's a real slap in the face to a large voting bloc. This large voting bloc has a lot of friends who also vote. I just don't think that the city politicians and school board politicians want that. They can have an army of baby boomer friends, or they can have an army of baby boomer opponents."
City leaders were understanding of the criticism, and apologized for coming off in a negative way to the Park representatives and school protestors. They assured they want to work together to find a solution that benefits everyone in the area. Although thousands of people use the Dog Park, thousands of students will learn in the new school.
As growth in the city has changed, school enrollment numbers shifted. This has led to dramatic differences in school sizes. The district is adding three new middle schools, thus moving to a 6-8 grade middle school configuration. SPS said boundary adjustments were needed to support changes in grade configurations, relieve overcrowding and accommodate student growth throughout the district.
Construction on the property will begin in a few months, which the city says give ample time to hear from the community. To give feedback, access the survey by clicking or tapping here.
To reiterate, no definite plans have been announced yet on the dog park, but it is not being permanently destroyed. The City is helping to look for a new location.