Richard Bergman (left) helps Rick Cross finish the bathroom partitions that will be installed in the renovated Startup Event Center. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Richard Bergman (left) helps Rick Cross finish the bathroom partitions that will be installed in the renovated Startup Event Center. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Get ’er done: Volunteers in Startup save town’s historic gym

A four-year effort turned a dilapidated building into an events center that’s the pride of the community.

The strength of friendship is measured by who you turn to when you need help.

For Rick Cross, that moment came several years ago as he worked on a community project to rehab the nearly 80-year-old Startup Gym. He contacted his long-time friend Richard Bergman.

“He said, ‘Come over here, I want some advice on plumbing,’” Bergman recalled. “It was more than advice. I ended up helping him.”

The day Bergman met his buddy at the gym, he saw a 7,000-square-foot building with big holes in the roof, floors that were rotted, windows that were shattered and its exterior paint peeling.

“This whole building was about to fall down,” he said.

Still, Bergman, a career member of a plumbers and steamfitters union, didn’t think salvaging the structure was impossible. “Being in construction my whole life, anything is doable,” he said.

It was a vision of what the historical building could be — an arts center, a place for community events and even a wedding venue — that launched the renovation effort in 2015.

Debbie Copple shows one of the restored windows in the event center. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Debbie Copple shows one of the restored windows in the event center. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Four years and thousands of volunteer hours later, the Startup Event Center will be dedicated at noon Saturday during a community celebration.

Original blueprints for the building were drawn up in 1937 and it was built in 1938.

Almost all of the building materials were donated by Startup’s sawmill.

Even at its most dilapidated state, visitors were struck by the clear, old-growth timber used in its construction. “Didn’t have a knot in them for the first 100 feet,” Cross said.

The idea to save the building was led by the Sky Valley Arts Council and Debbie Copple, director of the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Mary Ritzman walks outside the Startup Event Center with a can of paint. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mary Ritzman walks outside the Startup Event Center with a can of paint. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

They asked the Sultan School District, which owned the building, if the structure could be rebuilt “instead of just letting a community asset fall down,” Copple said.

The first step to save the building was as obvious as the need was immediate — a new roof. With every rain, Copple saw interior waterfalls creating even more damage. The only money she had in hand for the repair was $32,000. “I couldn’t get anybody to talk to me,” she said.

That is, until she contacted Roger Allestad of Loberg Roofing in Lynnwood. “They decided they wanted to be part of the project,” Copple said, completing it for about half the anticipated cost.

“That was our actual start,” Copple said. “Nothing we would have done would have mattered until that was done.”

In the months and years that followed, many others stepped up spontaneously to provide help or materials.

The Skykomish Valley is home to many skilled craftsmen, Copple said. “They’re generous people. They do what they do best and are always happy to share.”

Chairs are already set up for the Aug. 17 dedication inside the Startup Event Center. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Chairs are already set up for the Aug. 17 dedication inside the Startup Event Center. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Her narration of the project is often interrupted as she remembers one more person or organization that helped — repairing or replacing the structure’s 46 windows, the gritty but critical work of drywall installation, resurfacing and resealing the parking lot, and refinishing the gym’s floor, to name a few.

The very nature of this contribute-what-you-can project made what happened at its midway point somehow all the more unfathomable.

In September 2016, volunteers were stripping the building’s exterior and replacing it with new cedar siding. One night, someone stole not only the personal tools of volunteers but anything else of value, Copple said.

A lot of the equipment was used in their work by men who were volunteering. “Every one of them looked at me and said, ‘We’ll carry on.’ You just have to drive on is how they put it.

Restoration work on the Startup gym started in 2015. (Mark Klein)                                Restoration work on the Startup gym started in 2015. (Mark Klein)

Restoration work on the Startup gym started in 2015. (Mark Klein) Restoration work on the Startup gym started in 2015. (Mark Klein)

“I thought, ‘Fine, we can do this,’ ” Copple said. “We were able to carry on.”

Rick Cross has two skills that were especially helpful to the rehabilitation project. He has long enjoyed woodworking as a hobby, building his own home from the foundation up.

The retired Boeing Co. employee, 61, worked in quality assurance “which makes me sort of picky,” he said.

This attention to detail can be seen in the way the building’s entryway pieces were remilled to be exact copies of the originals — which had become rotted — and the hand crafting of its new doors.

A rainbow frames the Startup Event Center as restoration work was nearing completion. Nicole Shroy)

A rainbow frames the Startup Event Center as restoration work was nearing completion. Nicole Shroy)

Cross said he sometimes awoke at 3 a.m. and would go to his woodshop to create some part of the project he had been dreaming of.

He’s logged some 4,000 hours helping make the building into a center of community pride.

Bergman, 68, said he hasn’t kept track of most of his hours, but just the initial part of the plumbing, routing pipes under the floors and behind the walls, took about 320 hours.

After that came other projects, such as installing a new heating system, hot water tank and overhauling the bathrooms.

He and Cross would show up each day with a punch list of tasks they wanted to complete. Their attitude, he said, was “OK, let’s get ’er done.”

Reminders of the past, including original drinking fountains, light fixtures and even the foul lines on the gym’s basketball court remain.

New bathrooms, fire alarms, heating and electrical systems, wiring, plumbing and a total kitchen remodel are among additions to make the building ready for its new roles.

Grants and donations for the project totaled $147,358, mostly used to buy materials, Copple said.

This photo of the building’s kitchen is just one example of the massive renovation that has taken place at the former gym. (Debbie Copple)

This photo of the building’s kitchen is just one example of the massive renovation that has taken place at the former gym. (Debbie Copple)

“There’s been a lot of people come by and seeing it change,” Bergman said. “We’ve got great plans; this building definitely will be used a lot.”

The event center is one of six nearby venues for weddings, anniversaries, reunions and corporate events, collectively marketed as Sky Valley Celebrates. A self-guided open house tour is planned from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 22.

Carolyn Eslick has filled many roles in the Skykomish Valley: as a mayor of Sultan for nine years, owner of the U.S. 2 landmark The Dutch Cup Restaurant for two decades, and now as a member of the state House, representing the 39th Legislative district.

Eslick said she wants to ensure that Copple’s role in the restoration drive is recognized. “For years we tried to figure out a use for that building as a community center,” she said.

When Copple and the arts council came up with the idea to turn it into an events center, the Sultan School District was more than willing to turn it over, she said.

Eslick said she’s excited about Saturday’s upcoming building dedication. “I would not miss it,” she said.

She’s not going to the event empty handed. The former restaurant owner plans to make “many, many” fruit plates for the occasion. “We expect 150 people,” she said. It’s a town with an estimated 683 people.

As the celebration day draws near, Copple said she’s trying not to panic.

On Tuesday, Copple, ever the detail person, was applying a third coat of paint to the new bathroom doors.

Saturday’s celebration will include a community group photo in the front of the building, she said.

But even as the event celebrating the reopening of the 81-year-old building draws near, Copple already is preparing for the next challenge, for the Startup Event Center to be financially self-sustaining.

“If we’re going to do the arts programming and all the other things we want to do, we have to make the building pay for itself,” she said. “That’s the next big thing.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

If you go

The dedication for the Startup Event Center, 14315 366th Ave. SE, Startup, is set for noon Aug. 17. Go to www.facebook.com/startupeventcenter for more information.

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