CHINOOK - After six years of hard work and fundraising by a group of local volunteers, work has begun on the restoration and renovation of the Chinook School Gymnasium. "We're moving now," Loma Billups, vice-chair of Friends of Chinook School, said.

Last week, contractor Joel Bergeman began placing about 40 jacks under the old gym, built in 1921, preparing to raise it about 18 inches to make room for a new foundation. FOCS Members and Port of Chinook representatives observed the lift and celebrated with coffee and cupcakes provided by Chinook Coffee Company.

"This is Part A of a two-part project" on the gym, architect David Jensen said this week. Jensen is the "architect of record" on the restoration project for the school and the gym. He said Part A "is basically three things - raise the building and put the foundation under it, replace the roofing with new composition roofing and put in new gutters and downspouts, which have been leaking for decades." The water damage basically destroyed the main 10- by 12-inch girder beams running around the gym building, Jensen said. "They were sitting flush with the ground so they were rotten right through," he said.

Fortunately, that's the worst of the damage, Jensen said, and Bergeman and his crew have replaced the beams. "The building will be a foot higher when it's done," he said. Adding to the damage, the leaking downspouts drained under the building, contributing to the destruction of the beams. "They're totally gone," he said. But he said the structural integrity of the old building is basically sound. "Joel and his crew went around the whole building and, other than the beams, the structure is in really good shape," he said. "John Wicks knew what he was doing." Wicks, a well-known Astoria architect in the 1920s designed the school and gym and many buildings in the area including Hilltop School, the old Astoria High School and Astor Elementary School in Astoria.

Jensen estimated the building weighs about 190,000 pounds and said Bergeman commented "Wow, this building is really heavy."

The engineer on the project is David Starkel of DLS Structural Group in Vancouver.

The work on Part A involves stabilizing the building for the restoration work to follow in Part B, Jensen said. The work will follow the Secretary of the Interior's standards for the treatment of historic properties. Under those standards, restoration is defined as "the act or process of accurately depicting the form, features and character of a property as it appeared at a particular period of time by means of removal of features from other periods in its history and reconstruction of missing features from the restoration period. The limited and sensitive upgrading of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and other code-required work to make properties functional as appropriate within a restoration period."

One of the biggest and brightest changes to the dark and dismal gym will be windows, Jensen said. "If you look at the front of the building, there are no windows showing because at some time, the whole front, including the windows, was covered with T1-11 siding." Eventually that siding and the original siding will be removed and the total of 20 windows will be letting light into the building once again. The original siding "is shot," he said, and the nails are completely rusted through. Once that's removed it will expose the stud walls so wiring, plumbing and insulation will be installed "without damaging the inside, which will remain pristine," he said.

After that, work will begin on bringing the gym's bathrooms up to modern standards, adding wheelchair-accessible ramps and another fire exit upstairs.

And, the existing stage will be rebuilt so plays and other productions can be performed. "The stage isn't big enough for plays," Jensen said. "So we'll expand the back enough to accommodate productions." Restrooms and dressing rooms also will be added for cast members. "the interesting thing is that Angus Bowmer was a teacher at the school and he's why the stage was put in in the first place," he said. Bowmer, the renowned founder of the Ashland, Ore., Shakespearean Festival, taught in Chinook for a short time. Jensen said the Ashland festival has expressed interest in coming to Chinook for performances.

Work on the gym should be completed by 2010, Jensen said. Then work will begin on restoring the school, built in 1924.

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