Children wait patiently to play.
Children wait patiently to play.

Nearly seven years to the day the original building was leveled, Sultan celebrated the completion of the community’s new gym at the Boys and Girls Club last Wednesday. Despite its rural address, the replacement project received support and attention from federal officials.

Local, county and state leaders, the club’s younger members, staff and residents piled into the new gymnasium, which will also double as a community facility. Boys and Girls Clubs of Snohomish County executive director Bill Tsoukalas led the dedication on Dec. 20.

Staff from U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene’s office attended, as did Sultan grants and volunteer coordinator Donna Murphy, whose children were the local branch’s very first members, Tsoukalas said.

“This community stepped up to make sure kids continued to be looked after,” said Molly Keenan, DelBene’s district director.

Tsoukalas talked about the large-scale effort it took to complete the two-phase project, the history of the organization in Sultan and the many hands it took to keep the core values alive once the first structure was lost on Christmas Eve.

“It was an accidental fire in the middle of the night, and it all went away,” he said.

It happened on a Friday in 2010, Tsoukalas said. Operations were up and running again Monday morning because the Volunteers of America opened its doors to the youth and employees. Tsoukalas specifically credited the VOA of Western Washington’s president Phil Smith for making the generous offer. It was supposed to be a temporary partnership; they ended up staying for 4 1/2 years, he said.

Tsoukalas said funding was a challenge from the start. For construction at this scale, the community usually collaborates to cover costs through donations. Because Sultan didn’t have a large enough population to raise the nearly $2 million it took to build the new main building and a separate gym, state and county funding had to be secured, he said.

Former Rep. Dan Kristiansen and former Sen. Kirk Pearson were instrumental in the process, Tsoukalas said. Their buy-in was essential; they were the ones who had to convince their peers in the Legislature to allocate capital projects funds for the replacement, he said.

Immediately after the fire, Tsoukalas wasn’t even sure the city of Sultan would be on board to rebuild. It owned the structure, which it leased out to the Boys and Girls Club, and was entitled to the insurance reimbursements. The decision was swiftly made to construct a new facility instead of using that money for other city improvements. Former mayor Carolyn Eslick played a major role in that initiative, he said.

Eslick, who now serves as a representative for Washington’s 39th District, said it was a no-brainer that the city would help with reconstruction. The organization has been such an integral pat of the community and given so much support throughout the years, she said.

The Boys and Girls Clubs officially moved into Sultan in 1990, Tsoukalas said. A covered outdoor sport court was added on in 1999 and the downstairs was remodeled, according to the organization. Operations expanded into the neighboring Sultan City Council chamber building in 2004. Both were then destroyed in the fire. 

Sultan Mayor John Seehuus said that there is nothing more important a community can do than support its youth growing up and becoming active and productive residents. Sultan City Councilmember Russell Wiita, who was the student representative for the city at the time of the fire, pointed to the banners hung from the roof of the new gym. Each displayed the names of different businesses and organizations that were involved in the commitment and collaboration to make this all happen, he said.

“When you have this many hands, it makes light work,” he said. “Not that it was an easy lift.”

The Snohomish County Boys and Girls Club staff looked at different potential locations for the new site, and settled on a spot at First Street, Tsoukalas said. Doors to the main building opened in 2015.

“This club is the very essence of community,” Seehuus said.