New platform lift a dream for historic Dungeness Schoolhouse
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Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News
Shelley Taylor rides the chair lift she is leading an effort to replace in the Dungeness Schoolhouse. The chair ran out of power before she could make it to the top.

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– Members of Readers Theatre Plus and the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley want to give the historic Dungeness Schoolhouse a lift.

They're starting a fundraising campaign to put a new elevator in the Dungeness Valley landmark.

The schoolhouse at 2781 Towne Road, which is operated by the MAC, now has a battery-powered chair that lifts those who can't make the two flights of stairs — most of the time.

“Even though it runs, it scares people half to death because it shakes and it shutters and it just stops halfway up,” said Shelley Taylor, a former Hollywood actor who has performed with Readers Theatre Plus since moving to the Sequim area.

The groups now hope to replace the chair with a vertical platform lift that would be installed on the back of the school next to the fire escape.

No-frills elevator

“It's kind of like a no-frills elevator,” said Judy Stipe, spokeswoman for the museum.

Taylor said a lift like that costs about $22,000.

The present chair lift often runs out of electrical charge when shuttling people to the school's second floor.

That means people may have to be carried the rest of the way or taken back down to the bottom.

Taylor pursued the platform lift idea after seeing an elderly cast member carried up and down the schoolhouse stairs because the chair lift was on the fritz.

“So after that, I was on the phone for the next several weeks researching what could be done,” Taylor said.

Readers Theatre Plus, a nonprofit theater group whose show revenue is donated to many local charities, staged its plays in the showroom of the schoolhouse.

But since getting up the stairs was difficult for many of the elderly patrons of the theater, the group moved out of the schoolhouse and has since performed at the Sequim Prairie Grange hall.

“We'd love to be back in the schoolhouse,” said Jim Dries of Readers Theatre Plus.

“It's such a great stage and a great old building to be in.”

A variety show in November will raise funds for the purchase and installation of the lift.

The Dungeness School opened in 1893, and children from the Dungeness area went to school there until 1955, when the Dungeness and Sequim school districts consolidated.

Historical site

It was designated a Washington State Historical Site in 1973 and was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1988.

The lift will be surrounded by a wooden case painted to match the schoolhouse colors.

Taylor and Stipe both said the foundation for the Captain Joseph House in Port Angeles, a getaway for families of slain military service members, is installing a similar lift and that the case around it is being made to match the Tudor design of the house's exterior.

“When it's all done and you come by, you're not even going to know anything was done,” Stipe said. “Look at the Captain Joseph House. You won't even know it was touched.”

Stipe said she had no fears the building's listing on the National Register for Historic Places would complicate the project.

“You really don't know what they're going to hit you with until you apply for your permit and get things going,” she said.

“But as far as I've researched, I don't see where there would be a problem with any of it.”

For more information or to donate, contact the museum at 175 W. Cedar St., email sequimmuseum@olypen.com or phone 360-683-8110.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 19. 2014 6:33PM
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