History Center aims to trade land for teardown of former Lincoln School

Group aims to keeps possibility of expansion

PORT ANGELES — Without enough money to pay for the demolition of the former Lincoln School in Port Angeles, the North Olympic History Center is hoping to exchange some of its land on Eighth Street for removal of the building.

“What I’m trying to do is find a firm that will essentially swap the service of taking the building down to the pad in exchange for that 1 acre of grass to the north of the building,” said David Brownell, executive director of the NOHC and its only paid employee.

Speaking to a meeting of the Port Angeles Kiwanis Club on Thursday, Brownell said history center personnel want to keep the foundation pad of the building with the hopes of using the space for future expansion.

“If we were to give the building away to another organization, that sets the property line 5 feet behind our library and really closes us in. We have no potential for future expansion,” Brownell said.

The North Olympic History Center, formerly the Clallam County Historic Society, purchased the Lincoln School campus in 1991 with hopes of turning the building into a museum. But recent estimates for restoring the school to working condition ranged between $12.5 million and $13 million, Brownell said, far more than NOHC’s annual operating budget of about $100,000.

In November, the center announced it would demolish the 107-year-old building.

Brownell said Thursday the cost of restoring the aged building would amount to about $1,000 per square foot, while building a new school with the same footprint would cost about $250 per square foot.

“We want to keep the pad because that gives us the future potential to either re-use that pad for a new building, put our (storage) containers on it or what I would like to eventually do is to build some sort of an addition that actually connects our artifact storage building with our research library,” Brownell said.

The center put out bids for a new organization to take over the project in April but was unable to find a group with sufficient funding. Even if someone were to donate money to pay for the restoration, Brownell said NOHC doesn’t have the money to maintain a building of that size.

Brownell said the center is currently in the process of taking bids for demolition and hopes to find a contractor that salvages as much of the building as possible. The center has spent $500,000 trying to stabilize the building, constructing a new roof, internal structure enhancement and pouring a new concrete floor.

Brownell said he hopes to have the situation with the building resolved by the end of 2024.

While NOHC’s board has considered selling the property, Brownell said moving the center’s collection was difficult and very time-consuming.

“Even if we were just moving our collections from our current building to one across the street, that’s 2½ years of my energy, resources and time sunk into that project instead of doing all of this other stuff,” Brownell said, referring to the center’s program of tours, presentations and exhibits it holds across the peninsula.

While never being able to serve as a museum for the center, the school building has largely served as overflow storage for the history center’s vast collection of North Olympic Peninsula artifacts. Brownell said he and his team of volunteers are in the process of moving artifacts into new storage, trimming down the collection and digitizing pieces to make them accessible online.

The center has enough volunteers now that Brownell said the team is able to add several hundred items a month to the digital catalogue.

The catalogue can be accessed for free at nohc.catalogaccess.com.

Brownell said the history center has millions of pieces in its collection, many of which are duplicates, mass-produced antiques with no real connection to the area’s history or objects that simply don’t originate from the North Olympic Peninsula.

While many of the center’s artifacts are available online for free, the NOHC has few places to actually display their pieces for the public. The center does have an exhibit at the Federal Building on First Street in downtown Port Angeles, but the display cases there limit the kinds of objects that can be put on display.

With its limited budget, Brownell said he’s looking for other nonprofit organizations that the center could partner with to create a new display space in the downtown area.

As the center works to clean up and digitize its collection, NOHC continues to offer historic tours in both Clallam and Jefferson counties and exhibits housed at various locations throughout the community.

In the spring, NOHC will set up an exhibit at the Port Angeles branch of the North Olympic Library System displaying historical advertising artifacts such as business signs, menus and other curios.

Brownell said the center is also working on an exhibit — hopefully within the next six or seven months — about the construction of the hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River which brought widespread electricity to the region in the early 20th century.

“What we want to tell is the story of how these dams actually changed the history of Port Angeles and the nature and the socio-economic fabric of this community by providing electricity,” Brownell said.

More information about the history center is available at clallamhistoricalsociety.com.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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