FIR ISLAND — A two-room schoolhouse more than a century old is being given a modern foundation and other updates in hopes it can serve as an educational center and historical exhibit space set against the backdrop of Skagit Valley farm country south of Mount Vernon.
With a $91,000 grant from the state Heritage Capital Projects Fund, the Skagit County Historical Museum has begun refurbishing the Skagit City schoolhouse on Moore Road just north of Conway.
Last year, the museum took over care of the schoolhouse from the Skagit City Community Club, which bought the building in 1943 from the Conway School District, said Jo Wolfe, the museum’s development director.
“The school is the only historical structure remaining in the Skagit City area,” Wolfe said.
“We were very happy to take it.”
Workers finished using jacks to get the schoolhouse off the ground Tuesday so excavators can be used to level the soil underneath to make way for a permanent concrete foundation. The initial work is being completed by Chad Fischer Construction and Vanderveen House Moving.
Once the new foundation is set, Wolfe said the schoolhouse will need roof repairs. A small turret, known as a cupola, atop the building’s north side will be rebuilt and reinstalled, she said. Interior elements such as windows will be replaced next spring.
Because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, its appearance won’t change much, Wolfe said. Although the schoolhouse, built in 1902, is showing its age after decades of wear and tear, the goal is to keep the building true to its original form, she said.
“It currently just has a pillar system underneath because that’s how things were built back in the day,” Wolfe said. “There’s a lot of windows that need to be replaced, there’s siding that needs to be replaced, there’s lots of other issues.”
The schoolhouse is a relic of an era when children were taught in small, rural schools that dotted the countryside, Wolfe said.
Although it has only two rooms, the Skagit City schoolhouse was actually large for the time period, she said. It operated alone for more than three decades before being consolidated into the Conway School District in 1938.
The Skagit City Community Club used the schoolhouse for public meetings, including church and Boy Scout functions, Wolfe said.
The schoolhouse was also site of the annual Skagit City Community Picnic, something Wolfe hopes will return once the building is refurbished.
Wolfe said the schoolhouse will ultimately be used for community events and historical exhibitions. She said the historical museum also plans to talk with local schools and children’s groups about using the building for day camps and educational excursions.
Cate Anderson, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Skagit County, said her organization has worked with the historical museum in the past to organize history-themed day camps for kids. She said the schoolhouse could be a great venue for such activities.
“A lot of focus for the building’s use will be for education,” Wolfe said.
As a condition of the Heritage Capital Projects Fund grant, the project must be completed by July 1, 2017. Wolfe said she expects the work will be finished before then.
The grant, which is funded with appropriations from the state Legislature, also carries a fund-matching component that will require the museum to raise twice the amount of the $91,000 grant in additional money or “in-kind” donations.
Wolfe said the museum will be able to contribute some of the funding, but will also seek donations. The museum will also rely on help from volunteers.
Work on the schoolhouse is one of 31 projects statewide that was awarded grant money for the 2015-2017 biennium by the Heritage Capital Projects Fund.
Projects Manager Janet Rogerson said the grants are designed to fund projects that preserve and interpret Washington’s heritage, and make accessible the state’s historical sites.
Rogerson said the advisory panel that assesses grant applications noted the Skagit City schoolhouse is a historically significant structure at serious risk of collapse and is not currently open to the public. The panel also found the Skagit County Historical Museum’s plans for the schoolhouse are likely to be successfully completed, she said.
Recent applications to the Heritage Capital Projects Fund have focused on projects involving the rehabilitation of older structure for new uses, Rogerson said.
“Adaptive reuse is especially important, and it’s also a sustainable thing to do,” Rogerson said.