North Notes
Spokane North Rotary Club Bulletin
November 14, 2016
          Think Christmas: Gift coordinator Sandy Fink began distribution of 40 gift tags for 40 kids in Holmes Elementary School families.  Members can choose from among four suggested gifts for each child and should limit total spending to $35 for each child, so some children in the same family do not receive more or less than others. Gifts are due at the club by Dec. 5.  Gifts should be wrapped and labeled and signed with the giver’s name or “Rotary North.” The code letter for each family should be listed on the back of the labels.
          Field trip: On Nov. 28 the club will visit District 81’s HOPE (Hearing Oral Program of Excellence) School at 310 N. Riverpoint Blvd.  Sandwich orders are due by Nov. 21.  Free street parking is limited to just one hour – and closely monitored – so park in the Health Sciences Building parking lot and plug parking meters for 90 minutes or so (coins only).
Tracking area building is as simple as AGC
          While Spokane doesn’t have the “forest” of cranes visible in downtown Seattle, construction here also has been a huge part of the local economy.
          Cheryl Stewart, executive director of the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors, reviewed current projects and previewed new ones for the club on Nov. 14.
          The AGC is involved with construction of roads, highways, schools, offices, commercial spaces and multi-family residences.  “Everything but houses,” said Stewart, the AGC director since January 2015.  She has been with the organization 12 years.  The local chapter is one of 95 nationwide.  The Spokane-based office, founded in 1932, represents 275 construction companies and recently expanded to the Tri-Cities.
          Instead of cranes, perhaps Spokane’s iconic construction symbol is the orange traffic cone, visible throughout the county.  The City of Spokane alone has $64 million worth of street and road projects underway this year, with $20 million more scheduled next year, Stewart said.
          School districts also have been on a building binge, including District 81 (Salk Middle School, Mullan Road Elementary and the North Central cafeteria), Mead (Midway Elementary and Northwood Middle School) and Central Valley (five elementaries).
Multi-family units, many designed to appeal to “millennials,” are being built all over the county, but new retail space has been limited.  Stewart said with the burgeoning on-line sales, however, more call centers and distribution centers are being built.
          One sector not building much here this year is the state Department of Transportation.  Gas-tax increases to fund new road projects are accumulating, Stewart said.  Previously, such funds were “bonded,” providing up-front money for projects.  The current strategy is more pay-as-you-build, she said.
          For drivers, especially North Side motorists, seeing longer lines at stop lights all-day long, relief in the form of the North Spokane Corridor is still several years away, Stewart said.  The most-frequently asked question she gets, she said, is when will the freeway be finished?
          If the current schedule holds, Stewart said, the North Spokane Corridor project will be finished in 2027.  “Even if we had a blank check (for funding) now, it would still take 10 years,” she said.
          Asked if the funding could be diverted to Seattle-area projects, Stewart replied, “We’ll go down fighting.  It’s a very minimal possibility.  This (freeway) is going to happen.”
          The $879 million project will mostly be funded by the state, she said.  “There are no more federal ‘earmarks’ funds, but the project has already received two federal “Tiger” grants because it is ranked among the top 20 freight-hauling corridors in the country,” Stewart said.
          She added various parties continue to work on mitigating the new freeway over oil-contaminated land in Hillyard.  Burlington-Northern owns the land and has promised cleanup.
          Much of the freeway will be elevated south of the Spokane River, she said.  She added that “it will take about four years” to get the freeway to Wellesley, where a new traffic round-about was opened this fall, and seven years “to get to the river.”
Long-awaited improvements to Bigelow Gulch Road, a popular connector to the Spokane Valley, are still on hold, she said.
          For 2017, Stewart said, more multi-family housing units are planned and the City of Spokane has $120 million in projects, including $85 million in sewer and storm-drain overflow work.  More school construction is expected in Spokane, Mead and Central Valley districts and work will begin on a huge expansion of the terminal at Spokane International Airport.  That project, in two phases, will cost $180 million, she said.
          A top AGC concern, Stewart said, is workforce development.
          Average age of construction-industry workers is 52, which, she said, “is getting old to haul materials up and down” on job sites.
          She bristles at comments like that of a high school counselor who recently told her “construction is a career you end up in, not one you go into.”  She added: “That really hurt.”
          When she asked to speak to high school students recently, Stewart said she was told she could talk just to the at-risk students, not the full student population.
          She said area construction jobs pay about $22 an hour.  Adding benefits the jobs pay $40 an hour, an attractive wage rate for all students, high school and college.
          AGC continues to push for mandated apprenticeship positions and transition programs for military veterans, she said.
          Stewart marvels at the satisfaction construction trades workers have when they drive past projects and can say “I did that.”
          “We have a growing world,” she concluded.  “Somebody has to build it.”
The bulletin producers:
Bulletin editors: Chuck Rehberg and Sandy Fink
Photo: Sandy Fink
Program coordinator: Brad Stark