Trafton school’s fate is unclear after chapel decides to end lease

TRAFTON — The fate of the historic elementary school here once again is up in the air.

The Oso Community Chapel decided in November to stop leasing the old Trafton Elementary School building. Since fall 2011, the church had used the space for meetings, classes and, more recently, to store donations during the Oso mudslide recovery efforts.

The church was the first and only tenant to rent the school after the Arlington School District closed the school in 2010, over objections from former students and from parents of children who attended the rural school in its final years of operation.

When it closed, Trafton Elementary was the oldest continuously running school in the state.

The district has no plans to lease the building to another tenant.

“We definitely want to keep it in good repair at this point, but we’re not doing any major renovation work or anything,” district spokeswoman Andrea Conley said. “I don’t think (the school board) is at the point of making any decisions on what to do with the property. We just don’t have the money to staff it.”

The building is recognized as a historic site on state and national registers. It gained those designations in 2008, 120 years after the school was founded and 96 years after it was rebuilt following a fire.

Trafton Elementary is a two-story white schoolhouse with a gray roof crowned by a bell-tower and a smattering of moss. It’s on Jim Creek Road immediately off Highway 530 northeast of Arlington. Next to the school, there’s a picnic shelter painted with a bright orange tiger, Clifford the Big Red Dog and the words “Trafton Tigers.” Beyond that is a playground and a deflated tetherball hanging from its pole.

“I actually went to school there in the first grade,” said Jerry Graber, president of the Oso Community Chapel’s board of directors. “It’s a shame to see it sit there empty. It’s a great old building, and I hope someone finds a use for it.”

The church board rented the building to do more outreach in Trafton, about eight miles from the church’s main location in Oso. The group held some meetings and classes there, but the effort didn’t draw as many people as the board had hoped, Graber said.

Then came March 22.

A mudslide ripped through Oso, killing 43 people, burying part of Highway 530 and destroying a neighborhood. The chapel turned Trafton Elementary School into a drop-off, storage and distribution site for donated food and supplies.

“After the slide, we realized there was a real need for a place for people to go, besides the (Oso) fire hall, to be ministered to,” church board member Gail Blacker said.

Volunteers continued giving out food and household supplies until late November, when the church held a rummage sale for the final items. The sale brought in about $5,000 for the church’s Oso relief fund, Graber said. Board members are working with other local groups to determine the best use of those funds in communities affected by the disaster.

Meanwhile, church leaders decided to refocus on the chapel in Oso, which is coming up on its centennial, Blacker said. The board hopes to expand services at their longtime home, but having a second location is no longer part of the vision.

“As a church, we still plan to do all the things we were doing in Trafton, just at the Oso church,” Graber said. People like the idea of a Trafton location, “but it’s hard to get enough people there to heat that big old building,” he said.

At the schoolhouse, the church hosted some guitar classes, knitting groups, a harvest festival and an Easter egg hunt. One of the most popular activities was a Zumba dance class that has since relocated.

Graber hopes to see the building in use again soon.

“If it sits there empty, it’s likely to get vandalized,” he said.

Someone broke in at least once while the church was storing mudslide donations there, he said. No significant damage was done.

“The thief may have been looking for food, and if so, there was plenty of that,” Graber said.

The building, like any old structure, needs regular upkeep, he said. It has a leaky roof and drafty walls, but otherwise didn’t have any major problems while church volunteers were there.

The district is reroofing the building and will keep track of other maintenance needs, Conley said. They won’t let it fall apart, but it’s not a high priority for district spending.

“It’s hard because it’s such a landmark for our community,” she said. “There are a lot of memories there.”

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

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