The thing about the 200 Building was, nobody
expected to build it.
Commodore Middle School eighth graders were all poised to tour Bainbridge High School on May 26, 1976 – what was supposed to be their first taste of life on the big kids’ side of the campus – when plans were dashed by an arsonist who torched the main building of the 49-year-old unified high school in the early morning hours. Lost with the destruction of the stately, three-story brick edifice were the administrative offices, cafeteria, the AV center, and the entire 10,000-book library.
Quick work saved caps and gowns for graduating seniors, and stocks of the soon-to-be-distributed Aegis yearbook. Teacher gradebooks and student records were spared the blaze only because Superintendent Neal Nunamaker made a 2:30 a.m. call to one of the high school counselors – even as firefighters battled the flames – demanding the combination to the office safe. “He was shouting into the phone,” counselor Paul Torno said at that time. “It kind of sounded like him, but if I gave him the combination, it would be like handing him all the student transcripts of the four grades and last five graduating classes. At 2:30, it could be anybody.” He divulged the combination only after Nunamaker put another administrator on the line, whose voice Torno recognized.
The burned-out shell was a somber curiosity until razed. BHS students spent two years of diaspora around the campus, bereft of a cafeteria and kitchen – the tennis team profited handsomely by selling junk food goodies throughout the year, one graduate recalls – until the fall of 1978, when the 200 Building debuted. The library was bare bones, and a dearth of windows made classrooms seem rather dark to some. Still, it was new and modern and boasted such novelties as a “Junior-Senior Commons,” for upperclassmen only.
The building was feted with an open house on Oct. 23, 1978, an evening that included open rehearsals by the choir and student thespians, and a pickleball demonstration in the gym. A commemorative program read: “The new 200 Building was occupied at the beginning of the year, even though it was not completed. There are still some finishing touches and corrections to be completed and some furniture items, such as student desks, have not been delivered. The building replaces those lost in the fire: library, audio-visual center, study areas, cafeteria, student activity center, counseling and administrative offices, custodial storage rooms, and the faculty lounge and work rooms. The facilities have been designed to accommodate a program for an eventual population of 1,200 students. Present enrollment is 841.”
The building boasted 36,750 square feet of space. Total cost: $1.8 million.
Times change, and with them prices; the next 200 Building – for which our school community broke ground this week, as the wrecking ball hangs ominously over the old wing – will come in at a cool $22 million. The design too will evolve. Just as the grand, classical facade of the Bainbridge High School of 1927 gave way to the wholly utilitarian 200 Building of 1978 – its entryway little more than a glorified side door – a year from now, we will again see a high school building grand and spacious and rich in natural light.
Perhaps the programming can also include a display on the physical evolution of the Bainbridge Island School District’s signature campus, and its high school in particular. The photos and documents are rich and abundant, the lore still alive in the minds of citizens and administrators who built it and the students who strode its halls.
Consider: but for an arsonist’s torch, the “old” 200 Building wouldn’t have been built at all, or would have been the different product of a later time, engendering different tales still.
Gather those memories, and enshrine them.