When you listen to the athletic directors of the five Spokane Public Schools high schools talk about the future outdoor athletic facility for the district, one thing is certain – they all feel that the student-athletes that will use the facility and the communities they are part of would be best served if it was built downtown.

Regardless of whether the 5,000-seat new facility is built in the lot adjacent to the Spokane Arena and The Podium – the city’s new indoor sports facility – or rebuilt on the Joe Albi Stadium footprint, it will be a vast improvement over the oversized and decaying Albi.

But wouldn’t it be great if it could also be situated in a location where the students of all five schools could participate and take pride in it?

“It would be a big opportunity for all of our kids to be able to feel like they have their true home stadium,” North Central AD Madisen Petersen said last week. “Our kids have never had the chance to be able to feel like they have a home field that’s a beautiful field. So it would help North Central and Rogers, and the rest of the district, to feel like they have a home field and are supported.”

Petersen said a downtown facility would benefit more than just the athletes.

“Our main focus is always to be providing the most equitable opportunity for all of our students,” Petersen added. “Being so close to North Central High School, we know that it will be a successful venture for us and allow all students to be able to support their own sports and their own events.”

“I just think that it’s the forward-looking thing,” Ferris AD Stacey Ward said. “It’s just the place to go and watch events. We are used to going downtown for Hoopfest and Bloomsday. We’re used to going to the arena for concerts and basketball games and hockey games, and it is the core of Spokane and it’s accessible to all of the schools, centrally located.”

“It would be great for Ferris,” Ward added. “It’s so much closer than Albi, just a quick shot down the hill. We have a bus station right by our school and so (students) could hop on the city bus if they wanted to.”

Petersen lauded the work of the school board in hearing the new proposal and accepting public comment on an expedited basis. The board will sort through the proposal and public comments and have a decision no earlier than its April 21 meeting.

“We support the district in finding the most equitable opportunity downtown,” Petersen said. “We understand that when the bond was (held) three years ago, the focus for the bond was finding a Spokane school district stadium.

“At that point, an option or possibility was Joe Albi, but it was not connected with the bond. Today we’re continuing with the bond to find the best location for Spokane Public Schools. We’re happy that they found a better option, revenue-wise, opportunity-wise, and location-wise, and we’re thankful for their work.”

Ward, Aaron Brecek of Rogers and Dave Hughes of Lewis and Clark all spoke at the recent public hearings about the new proposal. A large percentage of the comments at those two hearings – which were conducted virtually – and on the board’s online advisory survey, were in favor of the downtown location.

“I think the biggest thing for the students at Lewis and Clark, it’s going to improve participation,” Hughes said. “I think we would be very excited about having either a soccer game or a football game there. And particularly football – our drill team would be there, our cheerleaders are going to be there, and I believe that our families will support as far as participation and attendance at the downtown stadium.”

Hughes, the former football coach at LC, acknowledged the unique situation within the district of needing a joint facility for the schools to share.

“I think there’s a disconnect by not having a stadium at school,” he said. “I think that that’s an unusual situation, but we’re also an urban school district, which is more common for urban school districts to have combined stadiums. So I think, in this example, this is probably the best that we could do for our students in Spokane Public Schools.”

Brecek said he wanted to represent Rogers students at the hearings.

“I talked to a lot of my students, and specifically football and soccer players, and they feel like Joe Albi is so far removed from anything that they aren’t getting the crowds that they should,” he said. “ If you look in the stands, especially for Rogers games, there might be 50-ish students, and a lot of it is because our kids don’t drive. Most them walk to school or ride the bus. It’s just so far out there that kids can’t get there.”

“When the opportunity opened up to take a good look at it again, I just thought that it was just the right thing to do,” Ward said.

“For lots of families at Ferris, we did not get to vote in the advisory vote because you had to live within the city limits,” Ward pointed out. “So we are patrons of Spokane Public Schools, but we were not in the city limits, and there was close to 10,000 of us that did not get to vote.”

“Talking to our football players, they’re really excited about the idea of playing in the center of Spokane,” Brecek said. “I think attendance has shown over the years that people don’t want to go out to Albi to watch a game.”

Even for a school within the city limits, the time constraints to get out to Albi add up.

“It takes 55 minutes for kids to get out there by bus (from Rogers), plus a quarter-mile walk,” Brecek said. “(Downtown) it’s 26 minutes, bus drops off right here at the front door.”

“For some of our families, it’s walking distance,” Hughes said. “Definitely for our teams, it’s just a lot closer. It cuts down on bus transportation, it cuts down on time. And so my thing is, this is just a much better location for Lewis and Clark High School.”

“Traveling out to Joe Albi is really tough for us, not only just trying to share it with all the other schools but getting our kids out there is hard enough already,” Petersen said. “Fans, parents, students, busing – it’s a big struggle for us. But being within a few blocks will alleviate a lot of those complications and provide more opportunities for our students and their families.”

Brecek is the GSL soccer coordinator and is very much in favor of a pro team investing in the city.

“The idea of bringing a soccer team here, I think, is something that would be great for the city and for the young soccer players to be able to look up to and aspire to.”

Brecek discussed the potential benefit for the city at large.

“It definitely makes sense city-wise,” he said. “When you go to Joe Albi, you go to a football game. You go (downtown), I think people would make an evening. They’d go to have dinner, they’d maybe catch a movie afterwards. I mean, it’d be more. There’s just more to do here.”

“I think it’s a win for the City of Spokane,” Hughes said. “I think the potential win for us as a sports community is if the Albi facility could be turned over to Dwight Merkle (Sports Complex) at some point, and we could have those additional fields there. I think in the big picture, that would be definitely a win for the sports community in Spokane.”

“I grew up at Albi,” Ward said. “My dad (refereed) high school football and when I was a little girl, my favorite thing to do was go reffing with my dad on Friday night. And so I understand the nostalgia about Albi. But I feel like a lot of the voters who want the stadium to stay there haven’t been there in 30 years.”

Petersen, in her first year as AD at North Central, brought up the wildly popular basketball spirit week as an example of what a downtown outdoor facility could mean.

“Groovy Shoes is one of the most successful events we have for our school when we compete against Shadle Park. It’s been held at the downtown Spokane Arena and it produces the most amount of our students (in attendance) every year. We want to see that happening with the downtown area continuously and repeatedly for all sports.”

“We want our freshman football players, and our freshmen soccer players to get a chance every year to go play in that (new) stadium,” Hughes added. “That’s going to keep them around for when they’re juniors and seniors. The excitement of a wonderful place downtown, I think, is a win for our school.”

Though Shadle Park is closer to the Albi site than the rest of the city schools, Highlanders AD Beau Tilleman said they were still in favor of the downtown site.

“There was a lot of confusion on why we wanted to go downtown,” he said. “I think they didn’t realize that Joe Albi could also be used as a different field, for turf soccer or lacrosse, different opportunities that could be opened up.

“If it’s downtown, if it’s centrally located, you’re going to bring a lot of excitement back to the rivalries between the Spokane schools. I think that’ll be really good for our community to be a part of that.”

Dave Nichols can be reached at (509) 828-9311 or daven@spokesman.com