Spokane Public Schools has approved a lease for Joe Albi Stadium in which the district plans to take over operation of the city-owned stadium with an option to buy it, says Mark Anderson, the district's associate superintendent for support services.
The $1 annual lease, if approved by the Spokane City Council on Monday, would credit the district $250,000 annually for maintaining and operating the facility, Anderson says. The annual credit would count toward the $1 million purchase price, meaning the district could opt to take ownership of the facility after four years, Anderson says.
The stadium, at 4918 W. Wellesley, next to the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex, in northwest Spokane, is roughly centered upon 47 acres of land included in the lease and the purchase option. The lease will go before the Spokane City Council Monday for potential final approval.
Brian Coddington, a spokesman for the city, says he expects the City Council will approve the lease.
"I think it's a great opportunity for Spokane Public Schools to maintain the stadium as a community asset," Coddington says. "The district is better suited to maximize stadium usage."
He says Joe Albi has long been predominately a high school athletics venue.
"It makes sense from our perspective that they continue to use it," Coddington says.
The new Joe Albi Stadium lease would begin in January and expire Dec. 31, 2017, with options to extend the terms annually through 2021.
That could give the school district until the 2021 facilities bond cycle to choose among permanent football and soccer venue options it's considering, Anderson says.
Separately, the district will begin planning this fall for a 2015 school facilities bond measure, with a goal of keeping in line with the 2009 facilities levy rate of $1.96 per $1,000 valuation, Anderson says.
He says Joe Albi Stadium, which seats up to 26,000 people, is far too big and in need of costly upgrades to use indefinitely as it's currently configured, but the district might have higher priorities than stadium construction or renovations to be considered for the 2015 levy.
Current priorities for the 2015 bond likely will include modernizing one middle school and perhaps building one or two new middle schools, Anderson says. Increasing middle school capacity and moving sixth-grade students to middle schools would reduce overcrowding in elementary schools, which are under a statewide court order to reduce class sizes in lower grades by 2018, Anderson says.
Beyond the 2015 levy, long-term options for permanent football facilities include acquiring Joe Albi Stadium and downsizing it to a 6,000-seat facility, or building a new 6,000-seat football stadium near Avista Stadium. Preliminary estimates put the costs of those options in the range of $18.1 million to $23.7 million.
Other options include upgrading five high school stadiums that would seat 1,500 to 3,500 people at an estimated cost range of $23.4 million to $29.4 million.
Meantime, the school district hopes to minimize the additional cost of fully operating Joe Albi Stadium, Anderson says.
"We think we can operate the stadium for about $20,000 more than the district is currently spending annually," he says. "We'll take over all concessions, and advertising revenue will help defray some of that initial expense." Under the current lease, the district doesn't receive any of the concession revenue.
The district also likely will be open to holding certain outside events at the stadium, such as Washington State University's spring football scrimmage, Anderson says.
The district currently spends about $81,000 a year in stadium lease and maintenance costs.
Anderson had told the Journal in April that the city no longer wants to maintain the stadium, which has been operating with an annual budget deficit for years.
If the city approves the new Joe Albi Stadium lease, Mead School District will continue to use the stadium under a separate agreement until 2016, a draft of the lease contract obtained from the city says. At that time, Mead would negotiate a new lease with Spokane Public Schools rather than the city of Spokane, the contract says.
The Central Valley School District and Gonzaga Prep, which also have teams in the Greater Spokane League, don't participate in the Joe Albi Stadium lease because they have their own home fields and only play in the stadium as visiting teams.
2015 bond planning
While a potential stadium project might be further down the line, the city and the district recently approved a land swap that could provide a site for a new middle school potentially to be included in the district's 2015 bond levy proposal.
In the trade, the district is exchanging 1.9 acres of land at the Southgate area on the South Hill, for 20 acres of city land next to Joe Albi Stadium.
Anderson says, though, that the land swap is contingent upon approval of the Joe Albi Stadium lease agreement, to ensure that all options for future uses of both properties remain open.
The city retains the option to buy back the 20 acres adjacent to the stadium at market value if the school district should decide not to build a school there, he says.
Planning for the 2015 bond measure will start in the fall, Anderson says. "We will hire a consultant to do a demographic study so we know the lay of the land as far as student population is concerned."
One project already on the district's radar is new classroom and administrative facilities at Salk Middle School, at 6511 N. Alberta.
That project would follow a $14.5 million gymnasium project that the district plans to put out to bid in coming weeks to be funded under the current bond.
"Phase two will be in the next bond," Anderson says. Construction envisioned for the second phase includes a new two-story, 97,000-square-foot classroom and administrative building that would be erected along Francis Avenue on the south part of the Salk campus.
Early in the 2015 bond planning process, the district also will hire a facilities consultantlikely an architectural concernto conduct a building-conditions analysis to identify the buildings in highest need of modernization and replacement, Anderson says.
"The key is determining how much money can we put on the bond and keep the promise we have to taxpayers for a flat tax rate of $1.96 (per $1,000 valuation) for school facilities," he says.
A preliminary list of proposed projects likely will be presented to the board by spring 2014.
The proposal then will be presented at public forums through the fall of 2014, and the board likely will make a formal decision on projects to be included in the bond measure at its first meeting in December 2014.
The district's goal is to put the bond measure to voters in February 2015, Anderson says.
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