The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding has gone through a makeover with new infrastructure such as a seawall, pilings and roofs added to the campus’ waterfront buildings. Executive Director Betsy Davis said $1.5 million was spent on the upgrades. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding has gone through a makeover with new infrastructure such as a seawall, pilings and roofs added to the campus’ waterfront buildings. Executive Director Betsy Davis said $1.5 million was spent on the upgrades. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding director tells of growth

Port Hadlock working waterfront district ‘feels lively’

PORT HADLOCK — Lower Hadlock is going through a kind of renaissance with the growth of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding and other ventures.

“It’s a cool working waterfront district,” said Betsy Davis, the school’s executive director. “We have the boat school and the growth that’s happening here. And now we have next-door neighbors — a family-owned tug boat company that tows from Alaska to California.

“On the spit, Hama Hama Oysters leases space. The Ajax is back, that’s vital. We have the sail loft upstairs and then there’s the Community Boat Project.

“It feels lively, and it’s exciting to see it visually come together as a historic district.”

The school will host an admissions open house at 8 a.m. Friday for the Wooden Boatbuilding and Marine Systems programs that begin Oct. 1.

Since 1991, more than 1,500 local, regional, national and international students have learned traditional and contemporary boat-building skills as they earn the school’s Associate of Occupational Studies degree over 12 months.

The school developed a new curriculum in 2018 that leads to a six-month diploma in Marine Systems. Five-day intensive programs also are offered.

Davis said more is to come.

The school bought an acre of land that bisects the campus so that now it’s a 7-acre waterfront campus.

“It was so wonderful that a byproduct of that was being able to offer a long-term lease to the Ajax Cafe,” Davis said.

“They are wonderful and they bring vitality down here. And they are great neighbors. They have a full parking lot all the time.

The cafe at 21 S. Water St., was reopened in April after Jefferson County ordered it closed in October 2016 because of a failed septic system. A partnership with the school enabled the popular eatery to reopen.

“To help enable all of this to happen we had to expand the septic,” Davis said. “We’re thrilled to have completed that as well. It was a big project.

“It’s a really happy community coming together story,” she said. “With this whole $1.5 million development of the campus there are multiple organizations involved.”

Davis said that funding came form a variety of sources.

“It took every member of the community to make this happen,” she said.

The school has been making upgrades to the waterfront buildings with new and repaired roofs, windows, pilings, a new seawall and girders and a new coat of paint.

A milling room was added to pull sawdust and noise out of the classroom. Additional classroom mezzanine space is upstairs in the Hammond Shop for the Marine Systems program and an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) lift.

The Rubb Shelter, originally a gift from Port Townsend Paper Corp., was remodeled and stairs were added to make travel between shops safer.

Several projects on the drawing board include the complete rehabilitation of the waterfront buildings, managing roof run-off, beautifying the grounds and providing way-finding signs.

Davis said the Galster House, home to the Ajax Cafe, is on the National Register of Historic Places and needs upgrades. The Green Building is damp and unfinished and needs upgrades to be usable space. There is a plan to build a new Marine Systems building that will include solar.

“We’ve raised $700,000 towards the new marine systems building, part of that was an appropriation from the state,” Davis said.

“There’s a foundation that wants to pay to put solar on the building.”

Davis said that the campus upgrades help create a great learning environment.

Davis credits the “inspirational staff” of Sean Koomen, chief instructor, and Kevin Ritz, lead marine systems instructor.

“The most exciting part of the school is the transformation that comes with the learning students do here,” she said.

“They build skills and confidence. They are able to create things. Then it’s wonderful to see our students graduate and get hired in the boat yard in Jefferson County.”

To strengthen relationships with businesses, the school has added a career services staff role. The school has been designated as a veterans’ supporting campus.

In February, the school was invited to participate in the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart, Tasmania.

The U.K.’s Classic Boat magazine featured the boat school’s participation. The national Classic Yachts newsletter covered it, too. The school provided demonstrations and presentations.

“I think we are among the strongest wooden boat-building schools in the world,” Davis said.


Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

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