New exterior shines light on project progress

Port commissioner and former Chinook School student Corky Wilson reminisces about his days at the old school on a recent visit inside the gym.

CHIINOOK - The old Chinook School gymnasium's exterior has been renewed to its former glory, thanks to a huge amount of work by a lot of people. An interior makeover is well on its way, too.

"The gymnasium is being restored for the community," Eileen Wirkkala, president of the non-profit Friends of Chinook School, said last week. And, once all the work is completed, the community, including the entire Peninsula and visitors, will have a location for plays, meetings, concerts and other events. The building also will be equipped to serve as an emergency shelter location if there's a major disaster in the area.

Meanwhile, FOCS continues to act as the "fund-raisers and cheerleaders," Wirkkala said. "People want this to happen. Where there's a will, there's a way. What you see of the outside of the gym is a huge part of the project completed," she said, although plumbing and electrical work and construction of interior walls are ongoing inside. The HVAC system is complete, too, and is a major component of the project.

Besides the local volunteers who have put in many hours, a number of local construction specialists have been on board during the project, including Bergeman Construction for the building's foundation (Joel Bergeman); B.T. Wilson Construction (Brad Wilson) for general rehabilitation construction; Elkhorn Truss, (Jeremy Hughes); Chinook Custom Concrete (Tim Patterson) for ADA ramp construction; Baker Bay Restoration (Kevin Palo) for windows; and Dr. Roof (Glenn Trusty) for roof, downspouts and gutters; just a partial list, Wirkkala said, of the many involved.

Planning for the project began about 10 years ago when it became apparent that the school and gym were falling into serious disrepair and FOCS was formed, publishing a mission statement in 2002 - "to refurbish and utilize the historic Chinook School for the cultural, educational, social, economic and recreational benefit of the community."

A grant from the Templin Foundation got the fund-raising ball rolling and the Port of Chinook, which owns the property, applied to the Washington State Heritage Capital Project Fund for funds to help with the gym restoration. Those funds have been used directly for the project.

"This is truly a community project with broad base support," Wirkkala said. "Local and regional help for the project by individuals and businesses has been overwhelming. The project has also benefited from the cooperation of the Ocean Beach School District, the Port of Chinook, the assistance of Pacific County and a federal government grant for planning through CTED. Critical to the success of the project was the Templin grant that started the project and funds from the Washington State Heritage Capital Fund administered by the Washington State Historical Society that has financed the major improvements to date."

In 2007, the port and FOCS signed a 33-year lease on the Chinook School property in which the Friends group agreed to manage it.

People who haven't been inside the old gym for a while will be astonished at the changes. For years all the windows had been covered with plywood to reduce damage, now that it's been removed and 95 percent of the existing windows rehabilitated, what once was a very dark and dismal space has been transformed into a bright and much more cheerful area. Over the years, the building has been used for roller skating, square dances and a dog training business.

Other improvements completed over the past year and a half include a new concrete foundation, a 17-foot addition to the stage, framing for dressing rooms and bathrooms, an addition to the kitchen, a wood deck and concrete ramp, cedar siding, new roofing, gutters and downspouts.

Electrical wiring and plumbing have been roughed in and the existing entry porch was placed on a new foundation with new columns and beams added. New windows were installed where existing ones were unable to be rehabilitated.

In addition, new exterior doors matching the originals have been installed with ADA-compliant hardware. Interior doors, funded by FOCS, are scheduled to be installed in 2012.

Port of Chinook commissioner and former Chinook School student Corky Wilson has been project manager throughout the restoration and has donated massive amounts of his time and expertise to the project. "It's very sad," he said. "Nothing has been done to the gym building for years." The port and the commissioners have wanted the historic gym and school to be restored for community use and also so events held there will be enjoyed by visitors and result in an economic benefit to the entire area.

In addition to volunteers, many professionals have donated hours, as well, to the project. David Jensen, architect, assisted FOCS prior to being hired as project architect. Bill O'Meara, of Seattle and also a former Chinook School student has donated all the labor for the gym's new electrical wiring, 800 hours so far, he says. A union electrician in Seattle, he said he's "a victim of the economy and instead of sitting around doing nothing, I'm making myself useful."

Wilson and O'Meara have fond memories of their time at the school. "I was the most hated kid in school," O'Meara said. "For three years I was the one who rang the bell that made everyone come inside after recess." And Wilson, who played many hours of basketball in the building, pointed proudly to his initials carved on the balcony railing in 1948. His initials, among many others, will be preserved on the railing. "The neat thing about this project is that work has been done by almost all locals," he said.

As usual, with remodeling projects on old buildings, some very interesting objects have been found in the walls, probably thrown there during construction in the 1920s. O'Meara proudly displayed a Hershey bar wrapper with the motto "More sustaining than meat," dating between 1912 and 1924. Tennis shoes, balls and a cereal box also were tucked away between the walls. These items and old photos and mementos from the school's early days will be displayed on the balcony walls.

If all goes according to plan, the Friends' annual Oktoberfest fundraiser will be held in the newly spruced up gym on Oct. 23. And, an open house may be held this summer, pending construction schedules.

And now, as Wilson said, "It'll take a big earthquake to damage this building now." In fact, Wilson was outside in the grass in 1948 when a big earthquake struck. "I saw the building rock," he said.

And, it's not over yet. Planning for the rehabilitation of the main school building is under way. Wirkkala said a preliminary architectural cost estimate for the school has been made and FOCS is considering a variety of options to fund the second phase of the project.

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