Community gathers to say farewell to old Ocean Park School

One person left a message for the Ocean Park School building itself, a thanks for its 70 years of service. DAMIAN MULINIX photo

OCEAN PARK - One last chance to walk the halls. One last chance to share from some of the 70 years of memories drifting through the old school house.

Last Thursday night the old Ocean Park School, originally built in 1933, was open to the public for the first time since it was boarded up and shut down in June. Some people walked the halls, viewing what the school had become, others remembering what it was to them.

"He's remembering when he had to go in the room with the paddle," joked Joan Sonntag of her son Stan.

The Sonntag's have quite a history with the old school. Joan and her husband Edward were teachers at the school. Edward, in fact, was the principal for many years. All the Sonntag children attended the old school, including Stan who was seen walking through the halls Thursday night holding a trophy from the 1956-57 Ocean Park School, Pacific County, Grade School, Heavyweight Basketball Champions - a team he was on in the eighth-grade.

After having a chance to tour the building, those attending that evening were ushered into one of the old classrooms for the evening's program. It was one of the coldest nights the Peninsula had seen this fall, and the building, which has been locked up without power or water for months was rather chilly. This one room was kept warm by two portable heaters that would hum in the background as people talked.

"This is an exciting time," said Ocean Beach School District School Board Chairman Ed Guelfi as he welcomed the group of nearly 30 people. "It's also kind of a sad time, too."

After an introduction of the speakers for the evening, it became clear what people were there for on this evening - to hear remembrances of the school.

"I know each of you have a story to tell about Ocean Park School," said Bette Arne, who was the principal at Ocean Park prior to the two elementary schools merging this fall during the construction phase.

"I haven't regretted a moment," she said of her time at the school. "It's an exceptional group of people, an exceptional group of community members. We can't wait to get back here."

Stan Sonntag was the first to speak from the audience and pointed out several other people in the audience who he went to school with there, including one who went to school in Oysterville.

"The times we had ... ," he reminisced. "Fortunately I went through it all."

And although he said he would miss the old school, he was also looking forward to the future.

"We had a lot of changes and did a lot for the community," he said, "but I think it's time for a change."

OBSD school board member Cheri Jones said that in remembrance of Sonntag's father, they would be replacing the plaque that once honored the man at the new school. The original plaque mysteriously disappeared in the last few years.

OBSD School Board Vice-Chairman Jim Sayce said he could remember every teacher he ever had at the school and went on to say a little something about each of them. He remembered learning to read there in the second grade, having Jon Kaino Sr. as one of his teachers and when they built a skateboard park in 1967.

"They all had clay wheels - what a sound," he said.

He also became somewhat emotional as he shared his memories of 1963, when all the students were called into the gym and sat around a little plastic radio and listened as President Kennedy was pronounced dead.

Joan Sonntag also remembered Sayce, saying "I had my thumb on you for one year."

"You had the last seat in the first row," she said. "Every once in awhile he'd burst into song just for no reason at all."

Architect Trent Hart of BJSS Duarte-Bryant spoke to the audience for the longest time, giving information on the site and elevation plans he showed to the group - the first time the plans have been seen by a large group of the public.

"The plans have been done with great care," he said of the considerations they have made to keeping with the character of the original building, some of which will be left intact.

He pointed out some key elements of the site, like a new courtyard on the west-side of the building and a covered outdoor play area for inclement weather. He also pointed out the 28-foot tall steel water tank that will be located on-site in order to be up to code for fire flow.

"That thing is like a hot potato," he said of the tank that has been moved several times on the plans.

Hart also showed how the length of the building would increase by about 30-feet to the north.

When Hart was done speaking, the floor was opened up to audience questions regarding the remodel. One of the hot topics was the covered outdoor play area, to which one woman suggested that they "do away with it," stating that it would be a place in which people could hide and do drugs at night. She also said that the students would get wet anyway due to the wind blowing the rain into that area.

Hart disagreed with the weather issue, stating that the prevailing southwest wind here would be blocked by the new gymnasium part of the building. As for the issue of safety at night, OBSD Superintendent Lockyer assured her that the building would be equipped with a security system.

The woman went on to say that she was also concerned that there was no stage in the new school gym, another sentiment echoed by other audience members. Lockyer replied, saying that a stage was something that had to be cut due to budget restraints. He said that when they talked with community members originally, the things that were of highest priority were educational and safety issues, to which the woman stated that a stage had educational value. Lockyer said there has been talk of using other things like risers for the annual school dramatic programs.

Arne backed him up, saying that a covered outdoor play area, as well as a full-sized gymnasium and sticking to the original character of the building were promises that were made to north-end voters prior to the bond election.

"I'd hate to see us go back on that," she said.

Lockyer also reminded the people that there are still a lot of things that must happen and many questions still to be answered in the process. To this end, Lockyer updated the audience on where they are at, and what kind of time-frame they are currently looking at for the completion of the new Ocean Park School.

Currently, they have completed the schematic design phase and are working through the design / development stage. By March they should have completed the construction documents from which contractors can work. After that, the job goes out to bid. Both the Ocean Park and Long Beach School jobs will go out at the same time, awarded to the same contractor to speed up the process. They will begin the needed asbestos abatement process closer to the time of awarding of the bid.

Lockyer said that at this time, the move-in date for the Ocean Park School will be the summer of 2005 - at one point it was thought that the move-in would take place during the winter break of the 2004-2005 school year.

The question of whether or not the district would be having an auction to sell off items from the old school also came up. Lockyer said there is no time-frame for such a thing, but did say that the district has talked about holding a surplus sale at some point.

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