These days business and education go hand-in-hand as area industries seek to train and grow the workforce of the future while also improving community connections. In the Greater Spokane Valley, building schools that provide quality education and communal gathering spaces has become an essential part of its plans for future growth.
One recent project that is expected to impact education, infrastructure, and economic development in our community is the construction of Ridgeline High School.
The $98.2 million school started construction at 20150 E. Country Vista Drive, in Liberty Lake, in August 2019. Ridgeline was funded largely through the district’s $129.9 million construction bond that voters approved in early 2018, with the rest being state matching funds for school construction.
Although planning for a third comprehensive high school in the Central Valley School District has been in the works for years, Superintendent Ben Small said the passage of the 2018 school construction bond allowed the project to come to fruition.
“Ultimately this project was about enhancing our communities and providing a quality education for our students and their future,” said Small.
The 242,500 sq ft building was designed by ALSC Architects along with Garco Construction Inc., contracting the project. Considered to be one of the largest construction projects in the county in 2020, Ridgeline is expected to be completed by July of 2021 with a grand opening set for August.
“We engaged with Garco to ensure worker safety, as well as plan an alternative should there be delays or interruption to the project due to COVID-19,” said Small. “They were a tremendous partner and helped us stay on schedule.”
Small said the district is grateful to have a positive relationship with the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber who helped to organize both the groundbreaking, as well as an early site walk-through of the Ridgeline site.
“We believe a quality business community is a critical part of having a vibrant community and quality schools,” he said. “Our partnership with the Chamber helped us show area business leaders what we were doing at the site, talk with them about our plans to stretch tax dollars, and operate in a way that benefits the business community.”
Small said that Ridgeline is similar in size to both Central Valley and University High Schools but was designed and built a bit differently. The high school includes a central commons area with four wings, consisting of 80 classrooms, two career and technical education classrooms and labs, a culinary kitchen, art and performing arts classrooms, and two full-size gyms.
“We did what we could to design an efficient footprint, use durable materials, and save costs where we could,” he said. “The costs we did save went toward building new fields at our other district high schools.”
Small said Ridgeline also has more parking spaces than the other high schools, a theater with balcony seating, and new safety features such as controlled entrances and shatter-resistant glass.
Small said the school has capacity for up to 1,600 students but will initially open only to grades nine through 11 and about 920 students are expected to attend in the first year.
Prior to construction, Small said the district partnered with the city of Liberty Lake for help in preparing the selected site, formerly owned by the local gun club, for construction.
“The city did an excellent job of helping us with those processes to ensure we’d maintain our timeline for the project,” he said. “Choosing this location ensured our commitment to a fall 2021 school opening, reduced construction costs and provided traffic and neighborhood accessibility.”
Katy Allen, City Manager for Liberty Lake, said one of the first things the district needed help with was annexing and re-zoning the site. The next challenge was fine-tuning the operations of Country Vista Drive that runs along the north side of the site.
“We knew that the addition of a high school in this location would result in many more trips along the corridor from people using either Barker Road or Harvard Road,” she said. “We also determined that as E Country Vista Dr develops, there would be a need for protected turning so we looked at installing a traffic signal off Country Vista at the entrance to Ridgeline.”
Allen said the city applied for and was successfully awarded a Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) grant which covered 70 percent of the $383,000 cost of designing and constructing the traffic signal, with the city covering the remaining expense.
Both Small and Allen added the partnership between the district and the city on previous school construction projects including Liberty Creek Elementary and Selkirk Middle School made the process of designing and constructing Ridgeline High School easier to coordinate.
Creating a new high school in Liberty Lake also meant a significant shift in boundaries for the Central Valley School District, a process that involved a lot of public input.
“In changing the district’s boundaries, we had to consider growth for all three high schools,” said Small. “A committee was formed to look at solutions that would balance enrollment and demographics while matching the needs of the community.”
Small said Ridgeline creates opportunities to improve high school education across the district. He is excited for the future and grateful to the community for its continued support. The school’s staff has developed a mission: Belong, Inspire, Grow. This will encompass the values of the new school and the work taking place there.
Ridgeline High School Principal, Jesse Hardt said, “Our goal is to create an environment that will give both students and staff a sense of belonging and inspiration.”
Hardt added that continued partnerships like those between the district and the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce are expected to enable students to connect with area businesses that may want to offer them internships, volunteering, training, and employment opportunities.
Liberty Lake’s mayor, Cristella Kaminskas said that she and the community are excited about Ridgeline’s opening.
“For students and families, it provides education and social interaction closer to home which is great for forging deeper friendships and a closer community,” she said. “It’s also good from a city development standpoint because the new traffic to the area will provide many opportunities for new businesses to pop up along the corridor. It’s just a fantastic opportunity all around.”