WILLIAM RUTHERFORD: A curse and a blessing

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Northwest Expedition Academy (NExA) is the newest school in the Coeur d’Alene School District and is housed temporarily in the building originally built in 1936 for students in the Hayden and Hayden Lake community. What a beautiful building. Thick wood floors creak and squeak as little feet walk the same halls that children walked 80 years ago. Thick plaster walls prohibit staples and tacks — used to hang student art and posters — from entering the cement. Antique hinges whine with the opening of most doors. This building has a story to tell.

Moving into this building this summer, I am consumed by ghosts. Everywhere I go in the community, I hear stories of kids, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who attended Hayden Lake Elementary School. These patrons thank me for bringing their school back to life. I also am asked to make a promise to the people I meet to nurture this building as if one’s grandparent still attended. “Treat that old girl like your mother,” one resident offers. “She holds memories that I can’t relive, memories that make me who I am today.”

“I had my first kiss in the bleachers above the gym at Hayden Lake Elementary School,” a friend shares with blushing emotion. “I attended that school as a child, taught at that school as an adult and my grandchild went to Hayden Lake Elementary school in kindergarten. This school is part of our family,” another friend shares as moisture wells in her eyes. “Thanks for giving her joy.”

Walking the halls of the new school — NExA — today as the principal, the floors still squeak, children still laugh and teachers and students still pledge the flag, learn math, reading and writing. The difference today is that children are not sitting in rows, the teacher is not standing in front of the class lecturing and students are not quiet.

As I walk into a classroom there is an educational buzz. Students are working cooperatively on a project determining how to change the shoreline of Avondale Lake to filter water effectively, making the lake healthy and avoiding toxic blue-green algae. Students research the toxicity of algae, understanding healthy and unhealthy algae, then read scholarly articles on creating a healthy aquatic biome. This work has a purpose and these students will make a difference. Avondale will be a healthy lake in part because of the work of these students. This is a snapshot of the educational focus of NExA.

Now that we’ve talked about the past, it’s time to address the future. The great citizens of the Coeur d’Alene School District passed a bond of $35.5 million with a 77 percent approval rate to build and update many schools in our district. Of this $35.5 million, about $12.6 million is earmarked to build a new elementary school, alleviating overcrowding in our district. This new school is NExA. NExA occupying Hayden Lake Elementary School is an immediate remedy to quickly solve the overcrowding issue while a new school site can be purchased for the permanent site of this school.

Moving NExA to the Hayden Lake center has been a curse and a blessing. The curse is, this school has metamorphosized into many academic structures over the past few years to include a kindercenter; the temporary home of Winton Elementary School as they built their new school; and now as the temporary home of NExA. Truthfully, the building does not meet the requirements of a contemporary educational facility. The cafeteria only sits 72 students, there are no adequate ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) bathrooms, stairs prohibit students with disabilities from accessing the majority of the building and the building’s limited fire capacity makes student concerts and events impossible.

The blessings stem from the community of Hayden and the support of the parents. Most who send their children to NExA agree that the site NExA sits on has many benefits. Being an expeditionary school, students are able to take daily expeditions into the community to learn about fire safety (visiting the fire department), food production (visits to Super 1), recycling and ecology (picking up garbage on Highway 95), water safety (visiting Avondale Lake), city government (visiting City Hall) and giving back (visiting the senior center).

I love my school being in the center of the city of Hayden. I also love the history and romanticism of an 80-year-old school that has a beautiful and reverent history. This Monday, Jan. 8, the Coeur d’Alene School Board will discuss the future of Hayden Lake Elementary School and the future of NExA. The board may decide to move the school to another site, to build NExA at the present site or to wait and garner more public input. This is the community’s opportunity to offer input to the board. If you have a strong opinion, please speak up.

I am not sure saving the Hayden Lake Elementary School building is feasible for the future of the Coeur d’Alene School District, but I do believe, the history of the school is important. If making the decision to build a new school on the present Hayden Lake site, I strongly suggest retaining some of the history and relevance of the present school. Those who made the history of this old girl deserve it.

• • •

Send comments or other suggestions to William Rutherford at bprutherford@hotmail.com or visit pensiveparenting.com.

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