Louder for the people in the back: The new high school sports stadium is not the Sportsplex

click to enlarge A rendering of the proposed Spokane Sportsplex. You know what this is not? A stadium. - COURTESY OF INTEGRUS ARCHITECTURE
Courtesy of Integrus Architecture
A rendering of the proposed Spokane Sportsplex. You know what this is not? A stadium.
Look, I know it's hard to keep track of these things. Maybe the news coverage has been confusing. Maybe you only read the headlines. Maybe you overheard someone talking about a "new downtown stadium" and assumed everyone was using "stadium" and "Sportsplex" interchangeably.

I get it. Honestly, it's pretty unbelievable that Spokane voters were asked whether or not to build a new high school sports stadium downtown while, at the same time, there was already a plan in the works to put a different sports building — a Sportsplex, if you will — in the same general location.

But now that the idea for a new downtown stadium for high school sports has seemingly risen from the dead (again) it's a good time for a reminder: The new high school stadium is not the Sportsplex.

Say it with me: The new high school stadium is not the Sportsplex.

What's the Sportsplex? It's a 130,000-square-foot building to be located just east of the Spokane Arena and north of the Spokane River. It's a project spearheaded by the Spokane Public Facilities District with support from the city of Spokane and Spokane County. It's estimated to cost at least $53 million, paid for with public dollars without a public vote through some clever funding mechanisms. It would feature an indoor 200-meter, six-lane hydraulically banked track and it would have the capacity to hold 17 volleyball courts, or 10 basketball courts, or 21 wrestling mats. It's designed specifically to accommodate a variety of sporting events to attract out-of-towners and boost tourism. They've already broken ground on it.

The new high school stadium, on the other hand, is a Spokane Public Schools project. The school district has been using Joe Albi Stadium for football games and other sports, but the district decided that Albi was too big and too worn out. Needing space for a new middle school, the school district wanted to demolish Albi, build a smaller stadium and also build a new school on the property. The plans were originally not to put the stadium downtown, but then the city of Spokane, encouraged by former Mayor David Condon, saw an opportunity to step in: What if that stadium was downtown instead? The school district passed a nearly $500 million school bond, which included plans to demolish Albi and build a smaller stadium at a location yet to be determined. Voters OK'd that. Then, in a separate advisory vote on the same ballot, voters resoundingly said they wanted the new stadium to be located where Albi currently resides, in northwest Spokane, and not downtown. So that's the current plan.
Both of these projects made local headlines repeatedly around the same time. And just in case the public wasn't thoroughly confused already, there was at one point an idea floated to combine the stadium and Sportsplex into one thing. This was after voters said "no" to the downtown stadium. The school board rejected it.

Why is all of this important to know? Because anyone involved in either project — and again, they are different projects — will tell you that basically nobody understands the difference. And because the projects are conflated so often, opposition to one becomes opposition to the other.

This isn't always the case — there are certainly arguments to oppose either one individually. But go through the Facebook comments on just about any story involving the Sportsplex or the stadium and you'll see what I mean. It'll probably still happen with this one.

That brings us to today. Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner is trying to get Spokane Public Schools to reconsider its decision not to build the new stadium downtown, arguing in the Spokesman-Review that it would save taxpayers $2 million. In the school board meeting this week, school board President Jerrall Haynes opened with a statement saying that the board could reconsider stadium plans if factors "change significantly," though he noted that could be said of any big construction project. Plus, everyone had a chance to weigh in already.

Ferris High School Athletic Director Stacey Ward then urged the board again to reconsider, presenting a letter on behalf of athletic directors across the district arguing downtown is a better location. Despite voters saying they preferred the stadium not to be downtown, Ward repeated what many people involved with the project have suspected: "People filling out ballots didn't know necessarily what they were voting for."

Also, it was a city vote, meaning thousands of people who live within district boundaries but not city boundaries weren't allowed to vote on where the stadium should be. Ward, as it turns out, was one of those people.

Maybe this is a persuasive argument for the school board. It is, after all, a different school board than it was in the last couple years, with three brand new members.

But whether you support the downtown stadium idea or not, it's important you know the truth. It's a stadium, like for football and other sports played outside on a field. It is NOT the Sportsplex. They're entirely different things that have been linked together through unfortunate timing and general misunderstanding. Tell your friends. 

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
  • or

About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.