Old school, new school

A treasure hunt is not what he came here for, but Riley Stites is finding his days split among being a carpenter, teacher and archeologist.

As he and co-workers - including students from the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center - remove aging, dilapidated materials from the Sequim School District's old high school building, he's finding graduation cards from the 1940s atop dusty lockers, yellowed and brittle letters from parents and classmates that slipped into a nook or cranny and other long-forgotten pieces of school memorabilia.

"This building is a big part of Sequim's heritage," Stites says.

It's a bit of a stretch to say that this project - one that is turning the south end of the building into new offices for Sequim school administrators - is about keeping the past alive. For the past four years, Stites and students in his Building Trades class at the skills center have been reviving the innards of the old high school.

The 16,000-square-foot facility was built in 1928 and used until the bulk of newer campus was constructed in 1967.

Now about half of it serves as the Performing Arts center for high school and numerous community plays and music productions.

The other part has been home to the school district's maintenance crew, district boardroom, storage and vacated classrooms, much of it collecting dust.

Now the south half of the old high school is home to Sequim's administration employees, who look to be in their new workplace well before the start of school on Sept. 8.

Bill Bentley, superintendent of Sequim schools, said the district office was becoming entirely too cramped for staff.

"This space over here," Bentley says, nodding south toward the 2,000-square-foot, one-story administration office at the corner of Fir Street and Sequim Avenue, "is so crowded. We've been (almost) sitting on top of one another."

Administrators have little room to store files and little room for private conversation, he said.

The renovation at the old high school building, Bentley notes, is a good collaboration with the skills center, a hands-on project for local students and a much-needed remodel of an aging building.

Students take charge

Two years after the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center started the Building Trades class, students took on Sequim's old high school building as a class project.

Stites had, at one time or another, 27 students in that two-credit class during the 2009-2010 school year. Building Trades covers all aspects of industry prep for 22 unionized trades, Stites says, including skills in carpentry, cement mixing, electrical work and more.

Some came into the class with some skills in the trades and others didn't know much at all but had an interest in making things.

"They excel if they want to work," Stites says. "If they stay focused and give me an effort, they get an 'A.'"

One of his "stars," Stites says, is Laura Quinones, who wound up working for Stites this summer to help complete the project.

"My grandfather was a carpenter and contractor for lots of years, so I thought I might as well give (the class) a shot," says Quinones, a junior at Sequim High School in the spring.

Quinones says she's learned plenty, from putting up sheet rock to framing walls and working with radius corners.

"She has an excellent aptitude," Stites says. "Her ability to mature is commendable."

Quinones is taking Running Start classes at Peninsula College this fall but says she hopes to fit Building Trades into her schedule.

Stites says this remodeling project certainly benefits the school, but perhaps the students even more.

He lists a number of former students making big strides in the trades - one student, in her third year at Washington State University, recently was accepted into the construction manager program while another is making custom interiors in jet airplanes.

"These are very well paying jobs," Stites says. "They earn every dime of it."

New inside and out, one day

The remodeling project at the old high school won't be fully completed for a couple of years, Stites says, noting the upper floors need more work. Also yet to come is an ADA-compliant entryway and covered roof, to be installed on the far south wall.

But if an earthquake hit the old building, the new quakeproof walls would keep it standing.

Stites and students, two carpenters from Primo Construction - Jim Hammonds and Kevin Smith - along with subcontractors from Eaton's Drywall have installed new windows, sheet rock, texture, paint, carpeting, wiring, lighting a drop roof and more.

"Everything's new from the floor to the ceiling," Stites says. "We've tried to preserve the old-school charm where we can."

He mentions that Westport Marine generously donated expensive crown molding valued at $50 per foot.

"We would never spend that money," Stites says. "We try to use local help, buy local."

Bentley says he appreciates that students can be a big part of the process.

"We've just found a lot of ways to be creative and make this project happen," he says.

He added he's not sure what the future holds for the old district administration building. But Stites likes the future of the administrators' new home.

"I can see this building with at least another hundred years in it," he says.

Reach Michael Dashiell at

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