In Our Opinion: School starting again means an opportunity for community


September 6, 2012

Cheney has two seasons: Summer and School. As residents know, the second season will arrive in the next few weeks as Cheney schools and Eastern Washington University resume classes.

Like every small town in America that plays host to a college, the community of Cheney will change dramatically by the time October rolls around. The sleepy days of small town summer will be gone, replaced by the energy and bustle of thousands of young people.

It can be a startling transition, even for those who have lived here for years. Business owners can't wait for the students to come back with their disposable income, while others—perhaps those who live in the path between campus and the downtown bars—are prepared for a few more disturbances.

Enrollment growth at Eastern is expected to continue. The university closed the freshman application period early this year, due to a 14 percent increase in applicants over 2011. The past four years have seen record enrollment, bringing the total to more than 12,000 this past academic year.

Anecdotal and actual evidence is pointing to a reduction in college student commuters from Spokane. Eastern is building a new dorm, and more student-focused restaurants and coffee shops are popping up in town.

Meanwhile, new middle schools open this week in the Cheney School District, and a new elementary school will open next fall. Many expect the new facilities to draw more families to the West Plains and the community of Cheney.

Population growth spells success for local businesses, but it also means Cheney High School will have some serious growing pains. Drivers along North Sixth Street have seen the new portable classrooms go up in the high school parking lot, but they won't fix overcrowding in common areas. The district is already considering options for future expansion of the building, and district residents will have the opportunity to add their voice to the discussion starting this fall.

Cheney will be a very different place in a few weeks. Traffic will be a bit different, especially if you're on SR 904 before or after class at EWU. Drive carefully and defensively and we won't be reporting on any serious collisions this school year.

For students, this is a time of excitement and anticipation. The start of school means the potential for personal growth, learning and just figuring out what they want from life. It also means buckling down and getting serious about their studies. The residents of this community—the non-students—could take a moment to walk in students' shoes.

Cheney is an education town. That's not going to change, and we should all embrace it. The people who spend time here are what make a community. That goes for part-time residents and commuters alike. We encourage permanent residents to welcome the part-timers, to partner with them to make the community a better place. The negatives to hosting a college here are far outweighed by the positives, and there is untapped potential for the university and the community to benefit from each other.

Enjoy these last lazy days of summer, and then get jazzed about the possibilities the school year has to offer.


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