Former school building was resurrected from destruction
By Matt Taylor
When the rival Twisp and Winthrop schools combined in 1973 to create Liberty Bell High School at a site between the two towns, few people held high expectations for the 66-year-old building that used to house the Twisp school.
The building, located on Highway 20 in downtown Twisp, was of little use to the newly consolidated Methow Valley School District. Lacking a better idea, the district abandoned the building immediately after the school was relocated and slated it for demolition — as soon as the necessary $600,000 could be raised.
For the next five years, the historic structure sat empty. Vandals ransacked the place, breaking windows and scattering garbage and old school supplies throughout the halls. The district turned off the power but never shut off the water, so the water pipes promptly froze and broke — flooding the entire building and leaving a foot of water on the floor of the gym. Pieces of the gym floor dislodged from the ground and floated around in the flood waters.
“It was a real mess,” said Kirsten Ostlie, current manager of the Methow Valley Community Center.
However, in 1978, a group of community members and Twisp School alumni banded together with the goal of saving the building. Donating their own money and time, they slowly began to clean up the building — doing everything from removing garbage to replacing broken windows and repairing pipes. Eventually, they had completed enough work to give the building new life as the home of the nonprofit Methow Valley Community Center.
“We needed a community center, a place to gather,” said Ostlie, recounting previous gathering spaces that the community had lost for a variety of reasons. “Twisp was quite a different town back in the day.”
While they were working to revive the structure, that same group of community organizers reached out to local farmers and artisans to offer them a space for a new farmers market. The farmers quickly accepted, and the Methow Valley Farmers Market was born that same year.
On Saturday (Aug. 11), decades after the farmers market and community center’s birth, about 150 people gathered in the renovated gymnasium in celebration of the organizations’ 40th anniversary.
Early on, tenants included the Twisp library (still located in the building), the Methow Theatre, and local entomologist Red McComb. A youth group was located in the basement, complete with pinball and vending machines, and the gymnasium hosted roller skating every Friday.
In addition to being a valuable gathering space, the building has served as a “great business incubator,” said Ostlie. Many valley businesses or organizations, including Room One Resource Center, Cascadia Music Association and Door #3 Print Studio, have called the community center home.
The community center’s current tenants include the Twisp branch of the Okanogan Public Utility District, Twisp library, Cascadia Music Association, LFW School of Dance, Hunt Guitar Studio, Methow Valley Theatre, Methow Valley Community School, Twisp Visitor Information Center, Methow Valley Farmers Market, Pasayten Taekwondo, and others. The center additionally hosts celebrations, concerts, memorials, recreational sports and community meetings.
The Methow Valley Senior Center also shares the building, but is separate from the Methow Valley Community Center.
“We love our tenants,” said Ostlie. “We do what we can to keep them happy because they make us happy.”
The majority of the nonprofit’s funding comes from its discounted rent, though significant amounts come from membership fees and community donations.
“There have been some really lean times,” said Ostlie, remarking on financial difficulties the organization has faced in the past. Despite that, the community center has continued to thrive, continually improving the space that it leases for $1 a year from the Methow Valley School District. Ostlie estimated that between the community center and senior center, roughly $1.5 million in improvements and renovations have been made to the 106-year-old structure since 1978.
“The community members are an amazing support system,” said Ostlie. A number of fundraisers are held annually to support the community center, including a Christmas tree sale hosted by Larry Smith and the Fabulous Fall Follies, which has been held in late September every year since the 1990s.
This year’s Fall Follies is set to be held on Sept. 29, and will include a community talent show. “It’s super fun,” said Ostlie.
“I think people are attracted to this place because the community center has always been here,” Ostlie said. “[It’s] so important to support the community center for its longevity.”