Waterman School building still stands for future generations

WATERMAN – The old Waterman School building is nearly empty these days, save for a piano and a couple of small wooden tables original to the building that were once surrounded by busy children working on their reading, writing and arithmetic.

The white and green-trimmed schoolhouse on Hillcrest Road E., next to Elim Lutheran Church, was built in 1912 after residents of the Waterman School District No. 37 voted to have a two-room building constructed on a two and one-half acre parcel of land donated by early settler John Brodine.

Today, its interior is the size of a basketball court, with original wooden floors and wainscoting, and high ceilings and white plaster walls. But during its heyday as a school, the building bustled with school children who were instructed in two classrooms separated by a partition that served as a cloak area. Teachers warmed the big building with heat generated initially by a wood-burning furnace — the wood supply was kept in an outbuilding (still standing) behind the school — then later from a coal-fed furnace.

Children arriving early in the morning removed their wet coats and boots in the cloak area and, if they weren’t planning to eat a lunch of soup cooked by teachers on a nearby stove, they’d instead eat from lunch boxes brought from home. Next to the nook that housed the stove was a back room (which now serves as part of the kitchen area) where unruly kids were sent to be disciplined, said Janet Hane, president of the Associated Clubs of Waterman, the organization that owns and maintains the school building.

During the Depression years of the ’30s, a Christmas program staged by the students would feature a visit by Santa Claus, who would hand out a bagful of goodies to the children. A written record expressed the holiday feeling in the school on that magical day: “… the children waited with great anticipation for their gift, which was a pack of nuts, hard candy and an orange.”

When the school district merged with South Kitsap School District in 1947, students were sent to East Port Orchard Elementary and the Waterman school building was closed. It sat empty for several years until a group of Waterman residents bought it for $1 from the district so it could be used by the community.

That group, organized as the Associated Clubs of Waterman, was formed to operate and maintain the building. At one time, the club helped coordinate its use by a cluster of organizations, including a women’s club, a karate group (which installed a wall of mirrors at one end of the building that still stands), a line dancing club and others.

Today, Hane said none of those clubs are active now. Instead, the building is an economical location for event rentals. The building can be rented for $200 a day, plus a refundable $200 cleaning deposit.

The bulk of its use is by one-time renters who stage wedding receptions, class reunions, family gatherings, holiday parties and educational meetings. Last year, the building was rented out 40 times, generating $6,542 (part of which included returned cleaning deposits).

“Most of our business is from September to December when the weather changes,” Hane said.

“We reduce the price if you want to use the building more than one day.”

As a nonprofit organization, the board must report its earnings and expenditures to the state of Washington. It has a president, vice president, treasurer and three trustees from among the association’s 25 members.

Hane said the rental money is needed to keep on top of the old building’s many maintenance needs. In 2014, its roof badly leaked because of rotted timber sections that allowed water to infiltrate a wall separating the men’s and women’s restrooms. She said the roof was replaced, costing the association more than $10,000 — a good price, considering the roof’s size and condition.

To pay for that major expense, several large trees on the school building’s property were sold for logging and some of the association’s members came forward to help contribute funds.

The roofing contractor, Jerry Anelli of JWA Construction of Port Orchard, has been especially helpful with additional needs.

“He’s a very fine gentleman,” Hane said, “and continues to help us out. When you’re dealing with local people, they’re more than generous.”

Other tradespeople have helped out with discounted bids, including one for $3,000 last year to replace the bathroom wall that was saturated with a growth of white fungus.

Apart from those major expenses, Hane said about $3,000 normally is required yearly to pay for repairs, heating and other measures needed to maintain the building.

While a stove for the kitchen was donated by a member and a new refrigerator was purchased last year, Hane said there always is a punch list of repairs awaiting attention; the single-pane windows need replacing to help curb heat loss in the winter, and the interior ceiling sags.

“Just like the suggestion made to replace our furnace, we know the ceiling needs work,” Hane said with a chuckle, “but it takes money and volunteers to do the work. We don’t have either at this point.”

Securing grant money has been suggested, but she said that in itself is an effort that takes time and dedication.

Meanwhile, the keeper of the house — Hane and the association — do the best they can with the resources they have.

Despite the structure’s needs, and its aches and pains, Hane said it’s a community treasure.

“I just think it’s a grand old building. As long as we can keep it going, the public is welcome to use it.”

The Waterman School building was constructed in 1912 to house generations of Waterman-area schoolchildren. It closed as a school in 1947. Photo: Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News

The Waterman School building was constructed in 1912 to house generations of Waterman-area schoolchildren. It closed as a school in 1947. Photo: Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News

Waterman School building still stands for future generations

The Waterman School building was constructed in 1912 to house generations of Waterman-area schoolchildren. It closed as a school in 1947. Photo: Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News