The bright, airy spaces and brand new air conditioning provided welcome relief from Plumas County’s soaring temperatures Aug. 15 when dozens of guests came to see the restored 1905 Historic Quincy Schoolhouse downtown.
Before the guided tours set off, every seat was taken and it was standing room only in the large new meeting room that served as one of the original classrooms for the 50 Church Street school.
The high ceilings have all been restored; energy efficient replica windows installed and the original Douglas fir folding doors still stand tall. Even the large county wall map showing all the locations of the original Plumas County schools was preserved. Elsewhere throughout the building, glass, paint, fresh drywall and recessed lighting give the old school a clean, cheerful modern appeal.
“I’m so proud they saved this old schoolhouse!” said person after person as the visitors assembled. “It’s a beautiful jewel for our communities and it was worth it.”
Plumas Unified School District school board members, administrators, staff and former employees joined local dignitaries and descendants of founders to honor the grand lady whose $4.2 million restoration had captured the heart and imagination of communities throughout the county since 2014.
A history of excellence
Staffers with the Plumas County Office of Education (PCOE) hosted the grand-opening event and talked about the history of the site and the campaign to save it.
Bruce Ross, District 1 director for California Senator Brian Dahle, presented a formal recognition honoring the school district for its work on the renovation.
Longtime former PCOE Director of Curriculum and Instruction Joe Hagwood, once also a PUSD principal and interim superintendent, gave a slide show and talked about the pioneers’ search for “the best architect they could get.”
Hagwood said, “They took great pride in their school,” and held to an eight-month school year and attracting excellent schoolteachers, a tradition that continues today.
He explained that the district hired premier California architect William Weeks who designed the building in the “Folk Victorian” style.
As the Quincy Public School, the building operated as an elementary campus for 45 years until the new Quincy Elementary was built on Alder Street. After 1950, the old schoolhouse provided offices and storage space for PUSD and PCOE.
The schoolhouse has held local historic status since the board of supervisors designated in with a resolution in 1983.
Major repairs forced big decisions
Five years ago, a catastrophic failure of a waste plumbing line forced staff to relocate and estimated repairs soared over $1 million. Soon after, public meetings began in earnest to gather public input and reach a consensus on the fate of the landmark structure. The school district offered the property for sale, but no takers were found.
In fall 2017, presenters said, the PUSD Governing Board of Trustees, including Leslie Edlund, Dwight Pierson, Traci Holt, Joleen Cline and Dave Keller, took decisive action to reroof the schoolhouse, buy some time to make decisions, and prevent further deterioration. It cost about $250,000.
Listeners in the audience nodded in appreciation. Someone said they were glad the trustees made that leap of faith and saved the building from disrepair.
Friends of 50 joined the effort
Key input essential to the restoration and decision-making process came from a group of interested citizens who formed the Friends of 50 Committee. Core members included Chris Murray, John Sheehan, Nancy Gambell, Nina Martynn, Kevin Danaher and Plumas County Supervisor Lori Simpson of District 1.
Ultimately, the school district decided to pursue a $3.5 million loan to fund the repairs and renovation that have restored the schoolhouse to a modern state. As with the majority of construction projects, costs came in somewhat over the original estimates, yet the district stayed the course to rehabilitate the site.
Trustee Dwight Pierson told the audience the restoration work included considerations about how to use the space with 21st century business and education needs in mind, such as connectivity, open workspace designs and energy efficiency. And there’s still some work to finish over the next few weeks, Pierson explained, plus the east parking lot will receive further attention, too.
The public will appreciate some additional new features because the facility now offers space for community meetings. Representative Chris Murray from the Friends of 50 Committee also talked about the care, study and research that went into restoring the schoolhouse with attention to the historical details and preserving what they could.
Committee volunteer Gambell is working on a project to replace the building’s leaded glass windows. She said donors would have an opportunity to fund specific windows in the coming months.
Home again, at last
Answering questions, coordinating the barbecue, and giving tours after all the presentations, PCOE and PUSD staff members smiled and welcomed visitors on the walk-through.
“You know, we’re moving back in after five years and it feels like we never left,” chuckled Patty McCutcheon, executive assistant to Superintendent Terry Oestreich. She worked in the building for six years before the team had to vacate.
Her boss laughed and nodded in agreement.
“We’ve even kept the superintendent’s office in the same spot where it has always been,” Oestreich said. “People will feel right at home when they come here.”