Teens help give new life to old fort building

Students Erik Appleberry, Aila Ikuse, Kate Merifield and Mark Dettman were honored for their efforts to preserve a building at Fort Ward. Photo by: Douglas Crist / Contributed


FORT WARD, Bainbridge — To some it may look like a relic, not worthy of saving. But to a group of Bainbridge teens, it’s a piece of history they don’t want to lose.

The teens, who formed the Fort Ward Youth Advisory Committee, along with their advisor Sarah Lee, are the recipients of 2015 Blakely Preservation Leaders Award, for their work to restore the 1910 Fort Ward Bakery Building.

The Blakely Awards have been given annually by the Bainbridge Historic Preservation Commission to recognize significant contributions toward historic preservation in the local community.

William Shopes, who nominated the teens, said, “They have shown remarkable poise and persuasive ability in presenting their project before the public and demonstrated awareness of and dedication to preservation of the history and historical environment of their community.”

Students Erik Appleberry, Mark Dettman, Aila Ikuse, and Kate Merifield were recently honored at a Bainbridge City Council meeting.

The students, all juniors at Bainbridge High School, live in the Fort Ward area and recall walking past the 1910 brick building as kids when they would play in the area.

“It’s just always been a part of us,” Aila said. “We’ve grown up with it.”

It was about a year ago when the students thought about taking on restoration of the building as a senior project. But soon, Erik said, they decided that it had to be more. They wanted it to become a community project. With the help of Sarah Lee, a Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7 commissioner who lives in the area, they formed the advisory committee and began plans for the restoration. Lee also received a Blakely Award.

First came Phase 1, which was creating the plans and researching the history of the building. As the teens will tell you when you tour the place, it was built in 1910 by the U.S. Coast Artillery Corps as part of Fort Ward, a military fort that existed to protect Admiralty Inlet and Puget sound from the enemies. The bakery building was where the cook made bread to feed the soldiers who stood guard.

The building after it was converted from a bakery into a power station for the Navy base. (Note the “Danger High Voltage” sign on the door.) Contributed photo

By World War II, there was no need for the bakery, since rations came pre-packaged to the fort, and it was converted to a power station to supply electricity to the fort. During World War II, the fort was where Navy ship radio operators came learn to Morse Code. At least that’s what the public thought. Later, it became known that they were actually intercepting Japanese messages, including one that was sent early on the day of Pearl Harbor.

After World War II, the fort was rarely used by the military and eventually the bakery building was surplused by the federal government around 1960. It became a private residence until 2007, when the sewer district bought the old brick building, hoping to make it their office.

With this history, the students made information boards that stand in the bakery building. They also sought out a construction and design firm that could create drawings of what the building could become with a little bit of tender loving care. Tina Gilbert, of On Time Within Budget, donated her services to do that.

She figured that the renovation and construction would take about $300,000 and about 12 months, once funding and permits were in place.

They also met with the Bainbridge Parks Foundation, and asked them to be a partner, since they needed to raise funds under a nonprofit status.

“The foundation wanted to see that we were committed to this project,” Aila said. “They told us if we raised 10 percent of the cost of the project upfront, then they’d partner with us.”

When they were ready to approach the public and ask for funding, they hosted community meetings to tell residents their plans.

“We went to the Rotary, to the Historic Preservation Commission and talked to the city council,” Kate said. “Pretty much we talked to anyone who would listen.”

To date, they’ve raised $12,000 of the $30,000 they need. They’ve been able to secure some small grants and the other money has been private donations. They have several more fundraising projects planned, including selling T-shirts and reviving the Fort Ward Days in mid-August that will include a salmon bake.

“Everyone we talk to has been very accepting and kind,” Mark said. “We really want to see this project happen because it’s our way of giving back to the community we grew up in.”

Once the building is completed, there will be an office in it for the sewer district. There will be a large community room where they can host potlucks and meetings. It will have a kitchen, bathroom and storage area. Some of the windows that have been bricked shut over the years will be reopened. And, the entrance will be realigned to look as it did when it was first built.

“There’s actually a road on the west side, which is now covered up with blackberries,” Aila said. “We plan to clear that out and we’d like to use it for parking.”

Other events the teens want to see at the bakery-building-turned-community-center are movie nights, where kids in the area can come for a Disney marathon and popcorn, and craft classes or book talks for area residents.

“We’re also thinking it could be a gathering place in time of emergency,” Kate said. “We’d have supplies here and everyone could come here when the power goes out.”

Knowing that the project will stretch over the next few years, the group has also recruited younger students who live in the area to take on the work once they all head off to college in a year or so.

They know they’ve got work in front of them. But getting the Blakely Awards has recharged them.

It’s amazing,” Aila said. “To finally get noticed for what we want to do — we’re just so happy.”

Mark agreed.

“When I got the email telling me we’d won the award, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

The bakery building is now on the national, state and local historic registers. The parks district will do the remodel and manage the center once it’s operating.

Having a community center on the south end is something the students say is needed.

“There are other community centers on Bainbridge — Filipino Hall, Seabold Hall and Island Center Hall — but nothing on the south end,” Aila said. “We really need this.”

To learn more or to donate, go to www.fortward hall.org.