A cool, damp Tuesday morning hardly seemed like the setting for a tunnel-ending moment.

But that was how it was at Sacajawea Middle School, where the band was playing, the drill crew was dancing and the gymnasium was packed for the first time in over two years.

The occasion, officially, was the inauguration ceremony of the new Sacajawea.

But, after two years of distance learning, contact tracing and face coverings, it was much more.

“The last two years have definitely shown us how central school is and how much we depend on ourselves to help families,” principal Tracey Leyde told the crowd.

“We look forward to a beautiful new space, designed with care and thought with our children at the forefront of every decision they make,” Leiden said.

The bulk of the audience — seventh and eighth graders seated in the bleachers of 62-year-old Sac’s gymnasium — will be in high school by the time the new building opens in fall 2023.

But they cheered all the same, as the speakers reminded them that their younger siblings, and perhaps one day their children and grandchildren, will learn in the new building.

“It reflects how amazing this school is,” said Adam Swinyard, superintendent of Spokane Public Schools and former Sacajawea principal.

Nikki Lockwood, vice chair of the school board, thanked those who spent several years “working on how to improve the college experience.”

“One thing we heard loud and clear was the need for a sense of connection and involvement for every student,” Lockwood said.

Entertainment was provided by the Sacajawea band and later by the drill crew to applause from the students.

Finally came the inauguration ceremony – with golden shovels and heaps of soil on a black tarp.

The first person to grab a shovel was Eli Roe, a fourth-grader at Jefferson Elementary School, who will be among the first students at the new school.

After the dirt was turned over, a rendering of the new school was unveiled.

Outside, Spokane contractor Lydig Construction had already placed a trailer and construction equipment in the parking lot facing Grand Boulevard.

Work will begin immediately on the $49 million school, which was designed by ALSC Architects of Spokane.

The new Sacajawea will hug the northeast corner of the property, with varied exteriors to replace the solid brick profile of the current building.

A predominantly brown brick exterior is meant to blend with older buildings nearby.

Classrooms will be contained in two-story “neighborhoods,” one for each grade level, a theme used in near-completed projects at Shaw and Glover Colleges.

Interior layouts reveal a student entrance that leads to a living room. Beyond this is a spacious common area which is a smaller version of Lewis and Clark’s.

The project is funded by a $495 million capital bond approved by Spokane voters in 2018. It will open in the fall of 2023 to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, who will then move on to Lewis and Clark High School.