Arlington district puts Trafton School on the market

TRAFTON — The Arlington School District is seeking a buyer for a historic elementary school just northeast of the city.

The school board Monday directed staff to seek bids from people interested in buying or leasing Trafton Elementary School and a house next door. The district owns 6.2 acres off Jim Creek Road just past its intersection with Highway 530.

A formal vote by the board on whether to sell the land and buildings would take place if officials receive a bid they like, district spokeswoman Andrea Conley said.

Trafton Elementary closed in 2010. At the time, it was considered the oldest continuously operating schoolhouse in the state.

Shutting it down was a controversial decision. Public hearings drew hundreds of people, including students who sang songs and carried “Save our School” signs. Parents fought to keep the school open by signing petitions and starting a group called Keep Trafton Alive.

Administrators decided the district couldn’t afford to maintain the old school for day-to-day use. Trafton served 135 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The original Trafton school was built in 1888, a year before Washington became a state. It burned down in a fire and was rebuilt in 1912. The building is on the Washington Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

“We don’t know yet who might be interested in buying the property,” Conley said. “We do have the ability to make choices based on what they want to do with it and how they desire to use it. Our hope would be to sell it to someone who would maintain it and use it as it is.”

More information should be available by the end of the year. A guided tour of the property is set for Oct. 8 and the district plans to accept letters of interest until Nov. 25.

Ed Aylesworth, now the director of child nutrition and support services for the school district, has personal history in the school. He was a Trafton student and all three of his children went there, as well. He also served as the school’s principal during its last three years.

It was a warm, supportive place, he said. The gap between school and home never seemed wide.

“As a kid you’d fall in the creek and call your mom and she’d come right over and give you fresh clothes,” he recalled. “All your friends were there with you, and there were parents there all the time.”

There’s a sense of ownership with community schools, Aylesworth said.

“It becomes yours,” he said. “It’s where you live. It’s where you raise your family. It’s the heart.”

He’d like to see the school become some kind of community space. It’s in a location where services or events would be accessible to families in the Stillaguamish Valley.

Most recently, the school was leased by the Oso Community Chapel and a Zumba workout instructor. The chapel used the space for some gatherings but mainly as storage for donated food and supplies after the deadly 2014 Oso mudslide. Last winter, church leaders decided to stop leasing the school building. The renter living in the district-owned house next door moved out over the summer, Conley said.

A Master Facilities Planning Committee made up of teachers, administrators, parents and consultants recommended to the school board last year that properties be sold when they are no longer of use to the school district. The district has done some basic maintenance but there have been no major renovations at the Trafton school since it closed in 2010, Conley said.

It’s hard to drive by and see the building just sitting there, said Bethany Belisle, who started her career at Trafton as a second grade teacher. Now at Eagle Creek Elementary, she has fond memories of Trafton and would like to see the old school become a new hub for the community, maybe as an event space or wedding venue. Hopefully someone with respect for local history will make an offer, she said.

“There were really unique traditions that continued to hold strong at Trafton for a long time,” Belisle said.

She remembers spending time in the dunk tank at the annual Trafton Fair and the daily ringing of the school bell by students to call their peers in from recess.

“There are so many things about Trafton that are hard to let go of,” she said. “Any teacher who ever had the chance to teach there will always hold a special place for Trafton in their hearts.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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