Old gym will soon come down

The Vashon school board voted last week to tear down the Vashon Elementary School gym, an old wooden structure that’s beloved by some Islanders but has been deemed a safety hazard by others.

Three members of the five-member board — just enough for the item to pass — voted to tear down the gym, located next to The Harbor School, next month.

They approved a $64,000 bid to tear down the building and save some of its large timbers — up to 10-by-10 inches wide and 48 feet long — for future re-use on the Island, said Bob Hennessey, school board chair.

A more expensive bid could have saved much more of the structure, but the board opted for the lesser of the two.

The work will be done by Mitchell Contractors, an Island company.

And though the 1919 structure was named one of the state’s most endangered historic structures three months ago, the safety concerns of the building — which is rotting or termite-eaten in some places — outweigh its historical significance, Hennessey said.

“Frankly, that’s why nobody’s terribly excited about tearing down this gym — it’s an important part of the Island’s history,” he said. “But our first obligation is to the safety of people in and around district facilities, and we don’t want anybody to get killed by this thing.”

Board member John “Oz” Osborne voted against tearing the gym down, in part because he felt the school board hadn’t done enough to try to save the aging wooden structure. Dan Chasan abstained.

“I really like the old building; I think we should have kept it,” Osborne said. “It would have been very expensive to fix it, to do it right and to bring it up to code. However, I didn’t think we explored all the options that were available to us.”

He said he thought funds to repair the gym may have been secured through a historic preservation group or agency but that the process would have taken time — time the school board didn’t feel it had.

The gym will be demolished in September, said Eric Gill, the school district’s capital projects manager. The project should take less than a month, he said.

After the gym is torn down, its footprint could someday be the site of a ball field. The Vashon Park District is applying for enough money to overhaul the fields at the property and may someday install a concession stand, bathrooms and bleachers at the site, as well as make new fields, such as one where the old gym now rests.

It’s these plans for fields that Osborne said seemed to push the gym’s demolition.

“It’s not going to take that long to take it down; I think we could have waited a little longer to take it down,” he said.

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