Photo by Kelly Sullivan: Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low came to present a $10,000 check from the Snohomish County Historic Preservation Commission.
Photo by Kelly Sullivan: Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low came to present a $10,000 check from the Snohomish County Historic Preservation Commission.

Opening day moves ever closer as residents continue to pump time and donations into the Startup Gym.

Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Information Center president Debbie Copple said some people believed the building would not be salvageable. The efforts that started two years ago have helped prove that assertion wrong. Volunteers are a major reason the restoration has proven successful.

At the most recent event — the Startup Gym paint party held on Saturday, May 20 — people between the ages of 6 and 60 turned out to plaster some paint on the stage and high walls.

“It was raging in here,” Copple said.

A crew of retired residents set up shop inside the outdoor restrooms, to rewire the electrical system and fix the plumbing. Weeds were whacked, and balusters were spruced up. The event was one of many large and small work parties that have helped progress the project within the past two years.

The Startup Gym is made of old growth timber, Copple said. The sturdy material is what allowed the building to sit for decades through the elements and remain a sound structure, she said.

“It was built in 1937 by community volunteers using donated materials, so we are basically putting it back into service in exactly the same spirit,” Copple said. 

Copple is also the project manager for the gym restoration, as well as secretary of the Sky Valley Arts Center, the local nonprofit heading up the renovations. She knows many of the stories behind the people and their individual efforts.

Last year, residents Richard Cross and Dick King helped the project save thousands of dollars by redoing all of the window frames and cutting panes by hand, Copple said. The wood was “all just completely rotten and laying there like sponge,” and the windows were in various stages of breakage. The Sky Valley Arts Council put a bid out to see how much replacing the materials would cost, and it was more than $100,000, she said.

“I don’t think there were any of them (windows) that didn’t have some broken glass,” she said.

Countless hours went into the work, Copple said. In the end, it cost less than $1,000 to complete. King was one of the volunteers repairing the outdoor restrooms on May 20. He said he is confident the center will have a positive impact on the community.

“I think it is going to be big,” he said. “It absolutely astounds me how much they have already accomplished.”

Cross also rebuilt the front entryway, Copple said. He carried out the task in tribute to his wife, whom he met at the gym in the sixth grade. It took years for him to ask her out — long after they both had graduated high school. They have been married ever since, she said.

Snohomish County agencies and the Sultan School District have also stepped in to help out. Copple said students have been a big part of the work.

Ninth-grader Briahna Koger came to the paint party to receive school credit, but thought, “It’s a nice thing to do anyways.” She said she had a chance to go up onto some scaffolding for the first time. Heights are one of her fears, but it was fun to give it a shot anyway, she said.

Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low came to present a check for $10,000 from the Snohomish County Historic Preservation Commission.

“It was overwhelming to see how much community support there is here in Startup for this community center,” he said.

Everyone was getting into the work that day, Low said, adding he saw one 6-year-old working outside in the sun that “had more paint on him than the baluster had.”

So far the preservation commission has granted the project $49,000, Copple said. That money is coupled with another roughly $9,000 grant from the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, plus the dollars and materials and hours donated by community members, she said.

“We have been just kind of chipping away at it,” Copple said. “You can’t just work at it like it’s a regular job, and you have to come up with money for materials.”

It took about 1,400 hours last summer to replace the siding on the building, Copple said. In between, old wrap and plastic was discarded, concrete was removed, and some demolition work was done by resident Trey Shelton, she said.

“He did work I swear most 30-year-old men couldn’t do,” Copple said. “He is strong.”

The restoration has seen setbacks.

The bulk of the construction equipment used for work on the gym was stolen last year. A sound system, Hitachi 10-inch chop saw, Bostich nail gun, Porter screw gun, two Titan electrical distribution boxes and a WORX trimmer — all belonging to volunteers — were taken.

The project was able to bounce back.

Copple said she has discovered her job is mostly finding out what skills people have and putting them to their best use. Pat Toman, who was working on the restrooms May 20, said Copple is one of the main reasons the volunteers turn out when they do, and why progress has moved forward as fast as it has.

“If you know Debbie, you are a volunteer,” he said.

Copple said there is still much more work to be done, but she hopes the grand opening will be held around this holiday season. She said she wants to host an event to thank all the workers who put time and donations into the building.

“It is going to be beautiful; it has just been amazing how people love this little building,” she said. “I think we are going to give it another 100 years to serve this community, and I think this is what everyone wants.”