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Island history rolls along

Museum building draws crowds on its roundabout

journey to Ericksen.

When is the speed limit in a school zone lower than 20 mph?

When a schoolhouse rolls through it.

That was the picture at 1:50 p.m. Wednesday, as a little red schoolhouse dating from 1908 wended its way through the roundabout at High School Road, en route to its new home on Ericksen Avenue.

“I’m very pleased with the move,” said Jeff Monroe, owner of Quilcene-based Monroe House Moving, which worked with Kunkel House Moving and Raising on the project. “We were within 10 minutes of the schedule all the way through.”

The building is home to the Bainbridge Island Historical Society’s museum, which has been closed since fall in preparation for the move downtown.

Building a new museum would have been more costly than moving the historic structure, which added 4.3 miles to its odometer on its journey from Strawberry Hill Park to its new location next to the Playhouse.

Originally scheduled for December, the museum move got back on track with relocation of the building’s annex in late January; moving the museum proper then was delayed several weeks over logistics.

The day did not start auspiciously, as an 8 a.m. traffic accident on the highway delayed the arrival of utility crews and police officers.

Failure to clear the roundabout by 2 p.m. might have made a mess out of school dismissal and school bus pickups, but the schedule proved true.

“The school district was happy,” Monroe said. “No kids got lost.”

Preparations took more than a week, with crews measuring all the tight paths the house would have to pass though. In the City Hall parking lot, the building had a scant 6 inches of leeway to get past railings, light standards and saplings.

“A bigger house wouldn’t have fit,” Monroe said. “We were measuring all the time, especially going into the city.”

The lion’s share of preparation was devoted to coordinating the 16-person crew, from teams to lift or drop overhead utility lines, to the person with a pole saw to trim close-growing branches at the park entrance.

The building was mounted on a trailer bed with independent front- and back-wheel steering, allowing the crew to move the house “crabwise” as it rolled forward, to help ease it past obstacles.

The schoolhouse left Strawberry Hill at around 9 a.m., where the house had its one minor scrape with trees at the park’s driveway.

The 30-foot wide roof got by, but “the right rear corner got banged up,” said Jack Swanson, acting director of the Historical Society, who followed the building’s progress through the day.

On a school trip to Bountiful Farm, the Thimbleberry Kindergarten from Madrona School was just getting ready to go back to school when they saw the schoolhouse turn right from High School Road to Fletcher Bay Road.

Sixteen pairs of small eyes followed the building’s progress.

“It’s a motor home!” student Emily Goto exclaimed.

“None of the kids have seen this before,” said Susan Scheirman, a parent accompanying the group. “This is a special attraction.”

Despite the challenges of coordinating utility crews for electricity, cable and telephone, as well as three police officer escorts, the crew was within five minutes of its planned schedule when it arrived at the roundabout at 1:50 p.m.

The public library emptied as shutterbugs took photos, and 30-40 onlookers watched the schoolhouse go by at a crawl.

The house took up the full width of Madison Avenue as the trailer drove over the small islands at the roundabout entrance. Several crew members darted around, circling and checking the clearance, often on their hands and knees – but still moving three times as fast as the house.

Instructions to “Back up six inches!” and “I want your left tire right here!” got the house through.

One member darted underneath the still-moving house as it exited the circle to untangle a hydraulic cable that had gotten snarled with the tires, causing a murmur of excitement in the crowd.

At City Hall, some two dozen spectators were on hand to watch as the house squeezed into the parking lot. At one point, a sapling had to be bent slightly back to allow the house to pass.

Mauri Pelto, a member of the Historical Society, was impressed by the moving crew.

“They have an almost religious respect for any obstruction,” Pelto said, referring to the team’s decision to wait until absolutely necessary to remove the stair railings at City Hall.

Others praised the help the move received from city personnel.

“The city’s been really wonderful with police escorts and an expedited moving permit,” Swanson said.

The moving crew finally declared victory at 4:21 p.m. when the house safely reached the Playhouse parking lot. It will remain there until Monday or Tuesday, when it will be shifted onto its prepared foundation.

This is the third move for the historic building, which served as a band and chorus classroom on the BHS campus until 1968, when it was trucked to Strawberry Hill Park for the museum’s use.

Monroe estimated that the latest relocation cost $40 a minute, with $15,000 spent on utility crews to move wires along the way.

George Bussell, president of the Historical Society, said he was elated by the successful relocation of the schoolhouse building. But with the many delays encountered leading up to the move – the museum now is expected to reopen in June – he said, “I just can’t get too excited until it’s done.”

As for the moving crew, while Monroe said the move was not the hardest one he has done, “it was a 9 (out of 10). We were very tired when we got home.”

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