Ponderay to restore historic schoolhouse

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(Photo courtesy KAYLEIGH MILLER) The city of Ponderay has acquired the old schoolhouse on Birch Street, with hopes of restoring the 1908 building some day.

PONDERAY — In an effort to preserve a piece of the city’s history, Ponderay officials have acquired the old schoolhouse on Birch Street.

While it is going to be quite the project for the city over time, Mayor Steve Geiger said it will be worth it to save the 1908 building.

“It is a historic building within our community — one of the last ones available to the city,” Geiger said. “I feel preserving the history is important … In the long run, we will look back thinking it was a really great thing that we did.”

The front room of the small building is the original 1908 structure and still has the old hardwood floors and portions of the original chalkboards and chalk tray that went around the entire room. City planner KayLeigh Miller said a structural engineer looked at the schoolhouse and said it is in “fantastic shape” for its age.

To keep the schoolhouse intact at its original site, the city is purchasing two of the six lots recently purchased by Northwest Solutions Investment Group, LLC. Initially, the new owners offered the schoolhouse to the city at no cost, though it would have needed to be moved off of the property. As city officials looked into what it would cost to relocate the structure, unhooking utilities and transporting it down the road, they realized it would cost just as much as an attempt to purchase the land, Miller said.

With the building being at height of a two-story residence — though it is actually one story with a tall ceiling — all of the overhead utilities around it would have needed to be moved in order to pull it through, she said.

“And we ran the risk of damage happening to the building,” Miller said.

City officials approached the seller to see if they could work out a deal to purchase the two lots the schoolhouse sits on. An agreement was made and council members approved the $150,000 land purchase Tuesday.

The idea was first presented to council in July by city planner Erik Brubaker, so it was a quick decision by city officials as the new owners began cleaning up the property for future development. Therefore, no specific plans have been made, though Miller said they will be pursuing grants for restoration.

While city officials don’t know what they will do with the schoolhouse beyond restoration — the possibility of a community gathering place was mentioned at Monday’s meeting — the building will remain a piece of Ponderay history.

“It will be quite a neat thing to show our kids in 40 years what a school used to look like,” Geiger said.

During the Aug. 5 City Council meeting, resident Sharon Finney said her husband’s family moved to Ponderay from Wyoming in 1936. Her husband was one of five siblings, and while he was too young, his older brothers and sisters attended the school for a time, she said. Her husband and all but one of his siblings have passed away, and she wasn’t sure exactly when the school closed down.

Finney said she was excited that the city was thinking about restoring the old building.

“I think it is a wonderful project,” she said. “... There is a lot of history here, and I think it would be a wonderful thing for Ponderay.”

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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