Reclamation station

Park employee Jean Welch (left) and volunteer Bernadette Stephen-McRae are delighted with progress at Battle Point Park’s transmitter building, undergoing transformation into a community center and youth gymnastics facility. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Park employee Jean Welch (left) and volunteer Bernadette Stephen-McRae are delighted with progress at Battle Point Park’s transmitter building, undergoing transformation into a community center and youth gymnastics facility.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

The transmitter building at Battle Point Park is getting an extreme makeover.

When park officials recently needed to store some rolled-up gym mats somewhere dry, they hauled the mats out to Battle Point Park and threw them in the old transmitter building.

To understand why that’s funny, one has to have waded through the building in the not too distant past.

Concrete from top to bottom, the building was nonetheless the functional equivalent of a sponge – porous to rains from above, and prone to frequent and voluminous backups through a dilapidated drainage system under the basement.

Evolution, as it will, has come slowly.

The building was the beneficiary of a new roof in 2004, but only more recently did park workers untangle and block off the mess of underground pipes and drains that crisscross the park, conduits that seemed to carry as much water into the transmitter building’s basement as they carried away.

The turning point came when it was determined once and for all that the basement does, indeed, sit higher elevation-wise – by precisely 8 feet – than the nearby pond into which it was supposed to be draining.

“When we found out, that was a big day for us,” said Jean Welch, sports supervisor for the park district and one of the restoration project’s coordinators.

While the renovation of several other historic island buildings – notably, the Camp Yeomalt Scout cabin and the Emil Olson mansion at Lynwood Center – have attracted more attention, work has quietly been under way to restore the transmitter building to its antediluvian usefulness.

The park board will tour the building at 5:15 p.m. Thursday, before the regular board meeting convenes at Strawberry Hill Park. The site visit is a chance to note progress on a building that until recently was little more than an architectural curiosity and a dumping ground for park district detritus.

A holdover from the World War II era when the park was a military installation relaying radio signals to and from the South Pacific, the building is being transformed into a “new” community center.

Young gymnasts will be the main user group, but the hall will also accommodate yoga and aerobics classes, youth activities and whatever else fills up the day.

You can do a lot with 3,165 square feet of floor space, and that’s not counting the basement.

“You build it and they’ll come,” said Bernadette Stephen-McRae, a youth sports volunteer raising funds for the project. “Once we’ve got this remodeled, the programs will just evolve, I think.”

Stephen-McRae and others had been looking for a site for a new community center, but found development costs prohibitive.

So they looked for other opportunities, and the transmitter building caught their eye. The building had languished in disrepair for years, its signature block-glass windows mostly shattered by vandals and both floors filled with mountains of junk.

Reclaiming the building suited Terry Lande, park director, who had been chagrined at its sorry state since he joined the district in 2003.

“You drove into the park, and you saw this run-down, beat-up embarrassment,” Lande said.

As fund-raising got under way, Winslow ar­chi­tect Dana Webber offered her professional services gratis.

“It was a building I had seen for so many years in such a state of disrepair,” Webber said. “As an architect, I regularly mentally remodel buildings anyway. That one looked like it had told a lot of stories, and I’d always wondered about it.”

What it had going for it, she said, was “proportions and windows,” and the restoration takes advantage of both. Broad new windows at each end – several incorporating those glass blocks that could be salvaged – now reveal the building to sit at the park’s midpoint. The north bank of glass overlooks an expanse of passive open fields, while the south windows reveal the more active uses of ball fields and playgrounds.

A new heating system has been installed over the expansive activity floor, and work will begin soon on interior sheetrocking, wiring and plumbing.

Renovation has been funded by private donations, grants from the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation and the Rotary Club, and the park district’s own coffers.

Organizers still need about $38,000 in cash, materials and labor donations to complete the upper floor. But they’re sufficiently optimistic and quietly forecast a September opening.

Organizers then will turn their attention to the basement, which is eyed for community meeting rooms.

While the final amenities will speak for themselves, the most profound change may be heard in the first exclamation of a visitor used to treading floors long sodden: “Look – it’s dry!”

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