Chinook School renovation on track for grant

Chinook's once beautiful school, seen here in an architectural drawing from the 1920s, will once again become a center of community life if a grant application is successful.

SOUTH BEND - Last week, Pacific County Commissioners passed a resolution that clears the way for the county and Friends of Chinook School to apply for a $1 million federal Community Development Block Grant to renovate the school.

When renovations are completed, the school is expected to become a key community center serving children, the elderly and most needy of Pacific County, according to the Friends group.

The commissioners passed the resolution after hearing a report of preliminary findings describing the best use for the property from consultants Nancy Gorshe, David Jensen and Michael Sullivan who said the school building and the gym are structurally ready for redevelopment. The project now will be submitted to the state and will compete for the CDBG funds which are given to states by the federal government. The states then pass them on to public entities for community improvements. The funds are targeted to serve low- to moderate-income residents.

The Chinook School and the gym are owned by the Ocean Beach School District. The district's board has said it has no plans for using the school and has worked with the Friends group to determine its best use.

The Friends of Chinook School organized more than two years ago. Since then, the group has been meeting with communities, public officials and agencies to determine the critical needs in south Pacific County. Their work led to the application by the county for a $24,000 CDBG planning-only grant that was awarded to the county in June to assess the structure of the building, identify programs and services that may be interested in serving the county from Chinook and analyze management options of the buildings once renovation is completed.

More than 20 services and agencies have participated in planning meetings indicating potential interest in use of the buildings if they are completed. They include the Chinook Indian Tribe to enable the tribe to continue its use of the building, Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, PACE senior meal program and others interested in sharing one of the classrooms for uses such as outreach, health screenings or community education classes. Many programs are also interested in use of the gym and fields for sports, exercise programs, education, theater and special events.

The county and the Friends group will develop the formal application for funds, which is due to the state by Nov. 18. Competing applicants from throughout the state will be notified by March if they have been chosen to move forward with their proposed projects.

The project is funded through the Washington State Office of Community Development with federal funds.

"These buildings are meaningful to the community," Friends President Eileen Wirkkala said recently. "There's great interest in the project. The reason it took so long to get to this point is that we wanted to do it right. We realize it requires a lot of money and we also want to make sure the plan is successful and meets the community's wishes."

The gymnasium has a kitchen and a stage and both buildings have the potential to be used for community gatherings.

Wirkkala said the late Jack Downer and his wife, Lucille, were the catalysts for forming a group to renovate the landmark Chinook School and Gymnasium.

The gymnasium was built in 1921, the school in 1924. Chinook School was closed in the early 1970s after OBSD consolidated the schools on the Peninsula.

Besides Wirkkala, Friends of Chinook School Board members are Vice President Loma Billups, Secretary Treasurer Ron Williams, Dan Whealdon, Laura Osborne, Carol Johnson and Ann Saalborn.

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