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Wednesday, May 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:28 AM

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A plea to save historic Bothell school

Times Snohomish County Bureau

History buffs and community activists are baffled as to why Bothell might pass up a chance to save and restore a 104-year-old one-room schoolhouse.

Members of the city's parks and landmark-preservation boards are among those who plan to attend a City Council hearing Tuesday to ask why their recommendations were ignored in a proposed seven-year spending plan.

Bill and Margaret Van Natter repeatedly have offered to donate the former North Creek School and its 0.3-acre property at 228th Street Southeast and 31st Avenue Southeast. Although its front porch is collapsing, the gabled building is "remarkably" intact and structurally sound, a Seattle consulting firm reported recently.

The Van Natters' latest proposal, unanimously endorsed by the parks and preservation boards, would allow the city to sell the land — appraised at $190,000 — if the schoolhouse were moved to Thrasher's Corner Regional Park.

The consulting firm, Seattle-based Bumgardner, concluded the building could be renovated in a new location for $294,000 to $334,000.

A committee composed of three council members and representatives from the Parks Board and the Planning Commission recently proposed a seven-year, $147 million spending plan for parks, transportation and public building projects.

The Parks Board this spring ranked the schoolhouse as its third-highest priority, yet it's not among a dozen parks projects to be funded in the proposed plan.

The committee never saw the Bumgardner study, which the council commissioned for $13,000, and instead worked from a staff report that listed the project's cost as $560,000. The consulting firm's report is dated Feb. 13, but the council didn't receive a copy until May 16.

Councilwoman Andrea Perry said she'll ask a lot of questions during Tuesday's public hearing.

"What's charming about Bothell, what gives it that hometown feeling, is we really do believe in the preservation of our past," she said. "Just as important as preserving our environment for future generations, we also have to preserve our history."

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The schoolhouse was placed on national and state historic registers in 1994.

Perry said committee members apparently thought — mistakenly — that the building is in "disrepair."

If moved to Thrasher's Corner Regional Park, the building would be used as a park interpretive center.

The proposed spending plan does allocate $1.2 million for the 54-acre park, for projects that include a new interpretive center.

Parks Board member Bill Moritz has spent hours analyzing the cost projections, and he has concluded it would be significantly cheaper to move and rehabilitate the schoolhouse than to build an interpretive center from scratch. He started with the consultant's estimate for a "modest" rehabilitation, factored in the cost of building nearby restrooms and subtracted the sale value of the existing school site.

"It's going to be on the highest point on the property," he said. "It's going to be a white beacon saying, 'Come look at me.' And people are going to come up and go, 'Ah, an old schoolhouse. Son of a gun.' "

The building served as a school from 1902 to 1920, then was a gathering place for the Canyon Park Community Club until about 1950. It has been used primarily for storage since then.

Originally built in a forest clearing, today the schoolhouse is surrounded by homes. It sits on an elevated site, in an overgrown mass of Scotch broom and blackberry brambles, barely visible to passing cars.

Inside, its slanting fir floor is still unfinished, and twin cloakrooms frame the front door. At the north end, a raised platform recalls where the teacher once sat. The slate blackboard is gone, but a molded wooden chalk tray remains, along with wainscoting and a chair rail along the walls.

The only significant change is a tall door cut into one wall decades ago by a previous owner, Jack Smith. Bill Van Natter said Smith, his uncle, had used the schoolhouse as storage for his trout-farm operation in a pond that was across the street.

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com

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