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Market is one vision for Monroe School HQ site

Tribune staff photo

The school district’s headquarters at the southeast corner of Fremont and Ferry streets as photographed in April.

MONROE — The historic Central Grade School building has seen many different generations of Monroe residents pass through its halls during the 104 years of its existence. But whether or not the structure, which is one of Monroe’s oldest, will continue to serve the local population for many more years to come is still uncertain.
After the building at 200 E. Fremont St. ceased operating as a school in 1974, it’s been home to the Monroe School District’s administrative offices for more than 40 years.
The district is moving its headquarters in August to more modern digs at 14692 179th Ave. SE, which once served as a Providence medical clinic. Administrators signed a 10-year lease on the 31,000-square-foot building in January. The school district’s board determined relocating was necessary due to the old school’s current condition, and because the building has not enough space for meetings and conferences and not enough parking stalls.
The old school is showing signs of its age. According to a statement from the district, an expensive list of major repairs is necessary which includes upgrading the electrical system, replacing the roof and windows, installing a new heating and cooling system, improving air ventilation, requires the removal of unsafe building materials and would also need renovation to the former school’s structural integrity.
Ben Webb, who lives near Monroe, isn’t deterred by the extensive catalog of rehabilitations necessary. He said that he appreciates the architecture and would like to buy the property to give it a new life as an indoor community market.
The old school, a more-than-20,000-square-foot building, had 12 classrooms to serve students across eight different grade levels, including separate rooms for girls and boys in seventh and eighth grades.
He visualizes making the necessary revisions and turning the old classrooms into a series of interior storefronts. “You can have a brewery, winery, different food places, kind of like a farmer’s market and just have a whole bunch of little things,” Webb said. “It’s a smaller space, but maybe an ice cream shop doesn’t need a full 1,000 square feet.”
Webb thinks that it’s important to preserve a piece of the town’s history and that the three-acre lot the building sits on also offers a great opportunity for a community greenspace outside of the potential marketplace. “When it’s sunny, people would have a place to go and hangout, bring your kids, lay a blanket on the grass or have your dog run around and I think it would help unify the area,” he said.
Tami Kinney, who is a trustee with the Monroe Historical Society, has been consulting with Webb and would like to see the structure preserved. She said by email that the school was an early downtown landmark and still retains many of its original features such as the radiators, fixtures and a basement cafeteria. The Monroe Historical Museum has the old school bell that would ring each morning from the top of the building.
“The Monroe Historical Society is in full support of the school board working with a purchaser to repurpose the building for new life in the 21st century,” Kinney said. “Our historic downtown is already quite small and we need to save as many structures as possible before it’s all gone.”
It was constructed in 1916 and is an early work of Howard S. Wright. His family-owned company also built the Grand Coulee Dam, Space Needle, Monorail and Columbia Tower in Seattle.
The building will be put up for sale in a public bidding process after the school district moves out.
If Webb gets his way, he thinks the refurbished old school could serve as an anchor and help to revitalize the downtown area around it. “If I have a hand in creating something that helps kind of raise the area up and people can come together that’s what excites me,” he said.
Webb said last month that he is in the process of reaching out to the public locally and also private enterprises in an attempt to secure the funding necessary for purchasing the former school.
He worries that developers would only see value in the property itself and demolish the building in order to construct apartments.

  

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