WAVERLY – Palouse farm native Glenn Leitz is seeing the dream of restoring the one-room Prairie View School become reality.
The decaying wooden building with a classic bell tower was disassembled last fall and moved in pieces to a new site in the town of Waverly in south Spokane County.
The 1904 schoolhouse sits on a new foundation under a completely new roof. Its window openings are boarded up to keep out vandals.
Now, Leitz, 83, and other preservationists are working to rebuild the interior and install wiring and finishing features.
“It’s a perfect example of what someone thinks about when they think of a one-room school,” Leitz said. The building is probably the last of its kind in the northern Palouse farming region, he said.
A pot-belly stove at the back of the room provided heat. A small, curved stage with wooden overhead arch adorned the front where the teacher sat. At one time as many as 35 to 40 students attended. The school closed in 1938.
In 2002, the school was listed as endangered by the Washington State Trust for Historic Schools.
In 2006, it was placed on the Washington Historic Register.
The school was built at Fenn and Waverly-Plaza road about 5 miles southwest of Waverly. It was probably an upgrade from an earlier pioneer schoolhouse, Leitz said.
“This would have been one of the better schoolhouses for a country school,” he said.
But in recent years, “The building was a complete derelict,” he said.
A grove of large cottonwood trees surrounded the decaying school, creating a picturesque scene for passersby but leaving the building vulnerable to vandalism and further decay.
The decision was made to move to the school to Waverly for practical reasons. There, it can be reused for historic displays, a tourist attraction and possibly as a museum or venue for community events.
The restoration is a joint project of the town of Waverly, population 107, and the Southeast Spokane Historical Society. Funding for the project so far has come from private donations.
Leitz, a leading preservationist in the area and project manager, said his group is seeking grants to help pay for completion sometime this summer.
He credited Waverly town Councilwoman Evie Heinevetter for gathering community support. The town government, which owns the land and the building, acts as fiscal agent for the project.
Nearly $50,000 has been invested in the project so far, including a moving and reconstruction contract with Maverick Roofing of Spokane.
“It was quite big, but it really went well,” said company owner Bart Ovnicek. He said he enlisted his brother-in-law, Eric Johnston, of Northport, to provide the moving expertise.
The first step was to lay the new foundation and top it with flooring.
The building was then broken down into nine pieces, braced and lifted with a 3-ton forklift onto a trailer two to three sections at a time.
“When we started to dismantle it, everything stayed together well,” Ovnicek said.
Each load was hauled to the new site and erected before the next load was brought in.
“The crew who did it did a fabulous job,” Leitz said.
Leitz said there was so much rotted wood on the upper walls that the group decided to lower them from 14 feet to 12 feet on the interior. Another 3 inches was removed from the bottom of the walls. The bell tower was rebuilt slightly smaller.
The school bell reportedly was removed by a school director when classes ended, said Leitz. The bell has not been recovered.
Leitz said the quality of the original construction shows just how important public education was to the communities of south Spokane County like elsewhere around the state.
“This building was stoutly built all right,” Leitz said.
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