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Summit on future of old school yields new ideas


With its history behind them, representatives of many agencies tour the former Grand Coulee Dam Middle School before sharing ideas for its future. From left are: Ted Anderson and Rick Rose, of USDA Rural Development; Lynne Brougher, of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Linda Black, adult education instructor with Big Bend Community College; Joette Barry, chair of the Grand Coulee Dam School District; Margie Hall, Lincoln County Economic Development Council; and Dan Foster, superintendent of Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. - Scott Hunter photo

A "summit" held to garner ideas about the future of the former Grand Coulee Dam Middle School was deemed a straight-up success by organizers, who met recently to discuss the March 12 event that brought together 19 agencies and businesses with an interest in the facility.

The building, which was originally Grand Coulee High School, is mostly empty following the opening last fall of the new Lake Roosevelt Schools complex in Coulee Dam. What to do with the big building has been a concern on the minds of school district and business leaders.

It offers 90,000 square feet of possibilities, which was the topic of discussion after a tour for those attending the March meeting.

Grand Coulee Dam School District Superintendent Dennis Carlson led a discussion of the facilities strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. He used sticky notes to add comments and group them by category, distilling a process that usually takes a day-and-a-half into a two hour discussion.

The positives far outnumbered the negatives.

Jordan Tampien, a community economic development specialist with Washington State University, said the building's segmented nature lends it to multiple possible uses at once - an asset he doesn't often see, unlike the vacated Wal-Mart buildings he's often called to see.

The group shared ideas for possible uses, ranging from adult education classes to daycare to a formal program for training certified nursing assistants or a culinary arts center, and special event trade shows that add to the local tourism industry.

"We have a lot of adults that want to come in an learn how to use their iPhones and iPads," noted Vance Frost from the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center, suggesting teenagers could teach such classes here, and people would pay for it, as an example.

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development office said they offer grants tailored to helping such enterprises get off the ground.

"Ideas are great," Superintendent Carlson said, thanking the crowd, "but you've got to have a spark plug to light the fire, and that's what the chamber has been. ... The ball is rolling and we can't stop it now."

The group's next step will be to host a public open house of the building, including tours and an open house-style meeting in the gym, encouraging the local community to contribute ideas and observations.

That event is planned for May 20, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Make comments online

Star readers are invited to add their own ideas on uses for the building in a special online site where they can post sticky note-like comments.

The Star will share those with the chamber group in advance of a public open house and tour of the facility set for 5:30-7 p.m., Wednesday, May 20.

To add ideas, you can double-tap on the frame below to put your own thoughts down on a sticky note.

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