SPOKANE —Tina Gard and Ron Anderson have not seen each other since they graduated high school — in 1984.
Anderson finished school in their hometown of Malta, Montana in ’83 and moved to Lake Stevens, while Gard got her diploma in ’84 and has split her time between Kalispell, Las Vegas and Arizona.
The two reconnected on Facebook a few years ago, and it did not take long for them to start hoping for a post-pandemic vacation. Now that they’re in different parts of the west, Gard said they met in the middle because both had wanted to visit Spokane.
It was in the cooling center of Riverfront Park on Saturday afternoon that the two found themselves living that vacation they talked about on Facebook Messenger months before.
As guests at the Montvale downtown, they planned to spend the rest of their vacation spontaneously, in spite of the heat wave sweeping through the Pacific Northwest.
“We’re looking for adventures,” Gard said. “This whole trip was so spontaneous.”
The City of Spokane set the cooling center up in one of the Looff Carrousel multipurpose rooms. The center opened 11 a.m. Saturday, with disposable masks, water and air conditioning all provided by the city .
Andrew Wellis, park ranger supervisor at Riverfront Park, supervised the cooling center as it opened.
Though it was not a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, Wellis said he expected more people to come through as the late afternoon sun warmed the park.
“This week was kind of unprecedented with the heat,” Wellis said.
Brian Coddington, City of Spokane director of communications, said the cooling centers will stay open as long as the days exceed 100 degrees.
The city will also keep cooling centers open at the Spokane Public Libraries, Coddington said.
At the carousel cooling center, they added a shady deck to the front for those with pets or those uncomfortable wearing masks. Inside, there’s a capacity of 72, he said.
Masks were required and pets were not allowed inside.
The city based these cooling centers off similar safer air centers that cropped up in September to stave some of the effects of the hazardous air quality from last summer’s wildfires, Coddington said. Those centers saw hundreds of people, so the city planned for that this summer.
“We built this initial plan to accommodate that many people, with the capability of expanding the centralized location to accommodate many more people,” he said.
Between the carousel location and the centers at the libraries, Coddington said they will probably have 1,000 open spots for people. The city is not concerned about capacity, he said.
The city will not likely know the cost of the centers until after the heat wave, Coddington said.
However, the centers use the same staff and same spaces that already exist in the city, so the city is not expecting to take a major financial hit, Coddington said.
“In part, it will depend on how many people use it,” Coddington said. “If we have to add additional space and staffing, that will cost more.”
Coca-Cola provided a pallet of water to the center, which had been donated by Dasani, according to a news release from the city.
Park employees stored the water in an empty closet and expect to have more than enough to last the week, Wellis said.
Visitors did not stay long in the center. They stopped in to fan themselves, sip water and take brief solace before braving the blistering heat again Saturday afternoon .
Gard and Anderson said they have endured heat like the wave that hit Spokane starting Friday. Still, Gard said having a place to cool off right in the park was a smart move by the city.
“The cooling center is a really great idea,” Anderson said.
The center at Looff will stay open for the next week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.