BIRDSVIEW — Surrounded by grassy fields that stretch between Cape Horn Road and the Skagit River, the building that once housed the Birdsview Grange remains structurally sound despite its worn look.
The Concrete School District has owned the building about 6 miles west of Concrete since 2006 after the Birdsview Grange disbanded as an organization.
“Their membership started to dwindle ... and they got to the stage where they could no longer support it funding-wise,” Concrete School District Superintendent Wayne Barrett said.
Granges are community organizations rooted in agriculture, according to the National Grange website. Over time, their focus shifted more broadly to the enrichment of rural communities.
Birdsview Grange No. 957 was established as a nonprofit in 1931, according to Washington Secretary of State records. During its operation, the grange hosted learning opportunities, rummage sales and community events including dances and performances.
“A lot happened here at one time,” Concrete School District Maintenance and Transportation Director Paul Carter said while walking through the musty, cold and empty building.
For at least the past 15 years, few more than school maintenance staff — and occasional mice and flies — have set foot inside. Stairs are crumbling, paint is peeling, windows are boarded over, and cobwebs, dust and grime are nearly everywhere.
“The school district just doesn’t have the money to fix it up,” Carter said, fallen boards from the ceiling scattered at his feet. “This would take a lot of fixing.”
The roof would need to be replaced, along with outdated water pipes and the electrical system. And special care would be required to save the parts with historical significance, from the concrete walls and solid wood beams no longer seen in new construction to the original, decorative high ceiling peeking through the ceiling boards that were added later.
The building includes a main hall with a stage, an upstairs level where there was once stadium-style seating, restrooms with outdated showers, and a downstairs kitchen and secondary hall.
“It’s an interesting building, for sure,” Carter said. “There’s a lot of space.”
There’s renewed interest in the community in making use of the building.
In 2020, the Concrete School District received a request from Skagit County Fire District 10, which serves the Birdsview and Grassmere areas, to transfer ownership to the fire district in exchange for use of the building for school programs after the building is renovated.
The Birdsview Grange organization has also reformed under the apparent leadership of the Birdsview Brewery. The brewery did not return a request for comment but posted on Facebook that it is working with the newly reformed Birdsview Grange Association and local fire district to encourage restoration of the property.
The Birdsview Grange Association had 18 members, according to the April 2020 publication of Washington State Grange News.
A website called Save the Birdsview Grange! states the group formed in 2019 with the goal of reacquiring the building and undertaking renovations. The group did not respond to a request for comment using the email address provided on the web page.
“Once it is restored to its original glory, Birdsview Grange #957 will hold their monthly meetings in the space, host community fundraisers, along with offering classes that might be relevant and sought after in this rural community (think classes on gardening, canning, sewing, farming, seed exchanges, etc.),” the website states. “It will also be offered as an affordable rental venue for weddings, parties, proms, and more.”
The Concrete School Board is considering its options for the building. The district posted an online survey on April 27 to gather input.
“The building is quickly becoming a liability due to its condition,” the introduction to the survey states. “The Concrete School District has been approached by a non-profit entity who would like to remodel the building bringing it back to a usable condition for various community events.”
The options outlined in the survey include keeping the building in its current state, donating the property to a for-profit entity, transferring the property to a nonprofit for historical restoration, or selling the property. Selling it, the survey states, could net the school district several hundred thousand dollars but may result in the building being demolished.
“This is the ONLY remaining piece of Birdsview history and it would be gut wrenching to see it be bought privately and torn down ... We are doing everything in our power to help save the (sic) this historic upriver landmark,” the Birdsview Brewery posted on Facebook.
For Dan Royal, past president of the Skagit County Pioneer Association, the former Birdsview Grange holds memories across generations.
“My grandfather and his siblings played basketball there and had community activities all the time,” he said. “That was through the Depression.”
Later, Royal’s children spent time in the Birdsview Grange while attending Concrete High School.
“There’s not a lot of granges anymore,” Royal said. “For people, it’s part of their social life and community. I’d love to see it come back.”
Barrett said the School Board has indicated discussions about the grange’s future will continue during the summer.
“This community has a lot of history down there and that’s a good thing,” he said. “The board I don’t think is opposed to saving it, they just have to make sure they are doing the right thing by the district and the taxpayers, and make sure we’re not just giving away something that is of significant value.”
The 4.5-acre property is nestled between two homes and isn’t well suited for a school.
“There’s lots of complicated issues with it,” Barrett said. “The board is tackling a couple of pretty big issues: No 1. is that there is a value to the property.
“They’re weighing a lot of things right now and trying to make the best decision for the community and the school district.”