What to do with the old Worley School?

Historical society wants to save building from wrecking ball

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The Plummer-Worley School District wants to tear down the historic Worley School, but the Worley Historical Society wants to preserve it.

WORLEY - The newly formed Worley Historical Society and the Plummer-Worley School District have entirely different plans for the unused, boarded-up and fenced off Worley School building.

The historical society wants to convert the building - constructed in the late 1930s - into a museum and cultural center. Society members believe such a use would invite travelers along U.S. 95 to stop and visit the city of 300 people.

The school district, though, is preparing to demolish the building along the highway, something that could happen in early December.

Catherine Morris, the society's president, said the historical society formed this summer after an article appeared in the St. Maries Gazette Record reporting the school district's plan to demolish the building because of its condition.

"It was just kind of a wake-up call," Morris said. "Sometimes it takes something like that to make people do something."

She hopes to get funding from the community, and possibly grants, to fund repairs to the building.

"Absolutely everyone is so supportive in the Worley-Plummer area," Morris said. "Nobody has had a negative comment."

The 69-year-old has spent nearly her entire life in Worley.

"The Worley Historical Society would like to develop the historical side of the museum, with the (Coeur d'Alene) Tribe doing the cultural side," Morris said.

Heather Keen, Tribe spokesman, said the Tribe is neither opposing nor supporting the historical society's goal.

"We'll be looking to hear more about their plans," Keen said. "We need a lot more information."

As for the building's condition, Morris said, "It's one of those things that it seems to depend on who you talk to. Some say the roof is a problem, others won't."

She hasn't seen anything that conclusively addresses the building's condition.

She said it was built by the Works Project Administration, a New Deal agency that carried out public works projects using unskilled workers.

"It's a big part of U.S. history that shouldn't be forgotten," Morris said. "It's certainly a big part of the history of Worley."

Morris went to school there for 12 years.

"My parents moved here to farm," she said "The farm has been going since the early 1940s."

The school building has a few classrooms to both sides, a gymnasium in the center, a study hall area across the front, and a cafeteria in the basement, she said.

"We're on an Indian reservation that has a rich Native American culture," said Darlene Sheldon, a society board member. "We want to work with the tribe to preserve its history."

Local resident Don Cash said, "We should save our history."

Judi Sharrett, superintendent of the school district, said the district moved students out of the building in 2009 because of the "imminent hazard of the roof."

She said it would cost about $2.3 million to fix the roof above the gym alone, and $14 million to bring the entire school into safe condition for students.

"For our purposes, it's not a possibility to do anything with that building," Sharrett said. "It is virtually unaffordable to insure, and too costly to fix."

Most recently, the school had preschool through fifth-grade students.

"It was everything at one time," she said.

Representatives from the historical society have been to the past two school board meetings.

"It's a dangerous building," Sharrett said. "That's what we've been advised."

She wished the members of the historical society well as they seek to take ownership and put it to use again.

From her personal perspective, she said, "That would be awesome" if the historical society's wishes came true.

Jackie Van Orman, Worley's clerk-treasurer, said the City Council and Mayor Charlene Waddell heard from Morris on Wednesday night.

"The city can't take any official position," Van Orman said. "But the council and mayor gave the historical group encouragement to continue with their efforts."

Virginia Nigh, a Worley resident and a member of the historical society, said the building is structurally sound.

"It's the only building that's been in Worley for a long, long time. Worley once was a thriving community, and I don't know what caused it to shrink," she said.

This week, she said, inspections of the building were done for the historical society by a commercial contractor who builds schools and an architect from Spokane.

"They said, 'Yes, it needs a lot of work, but it's also structurally sound,'" Nigh said.

At a minimum, the historical society wants to find a way to halt the demolition.

The group has reached out to the Kootenai County Historic Commission for help.

Sally (Dyer) Holt of Worley was among the first class of first-graders to start at the school, and she stayed at the school until graduating in 1952, one of four in her senior class.

"One is deceased, and the other three of us are still in the area," said Holt, who was born in Worley at her grandparents' house.

She said she still gets together with members of her tiny graduating class to talk about their school days.

"It has those big, big windows that were cold in the winter, but you could really see out of them," Holt said.

She was also a school secretary for a number of years there.

"Most people would like to see the building saved," Holt said. "It is about the last thing there is of the old Worley."

During the Korean War, she recalled, she and some of her classmates baked cookies at their homes and in the school's home economics classroom, then sent them off to the school's alumni fighting in the war.

"We boxed them up at the school," she said.

She recalls the basketball teams being very competitive back then, playing their games on a beautiful oak floor.

"If they take a wrecking ball to it, I certainly hope they save the gym floor," she said.

She also fondly recalls the wide hallways.

"It has those old concrete walls, and I don't think they're ever going to fall down," Holt said.

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