Old schoolhouse still home to Methow Community Club
The Tuesday-morning coffee ritual in the lower valley will endure, now that a change in ownership for the unassuming former schoolhouse in the community of Methow didn’t pan out.
Residents of the strong-knit community have shared caffeine and conversation in the building for 65 years, surrounded by historic photos and quilts.
Exploratory discussions between the Pateros School District, which owns the schoolhouse, and Douglas/Okanogan Fire District 15 about a potential sale fizzled out after the fire district decided it was no longer interested in buying the property to expand the district’s fire hall, Pateros School District Superintendent Greg Goodnight said. Instead, the fire district made a counterproposal to the school district to buy just a small strip of land.
At the Pateros School Board meeting on Feb. 24, the school board directors unanimously declined the counterproposal because they want to keep the schoolhouse property whole, Goodnight said.
The main use of the schoolhouse is by the Methow Community Club. Since the heating system was improved 15 years ago, weekly Tuesday-morning gatherings of the informal club have drawn dozens of people.
“It’s just a low-key, laid-back coffee group. We get together and drink coffee, eat cookies, and tell lies,” community club president Bob Tonseth said. Folks with ties to the lower valley come from Pateros, Twisp — or even Wenatchee — and bring a box of donuts. “Always, there’s something you don’t need to be eating to go along with the coffee,” Tonseth said.
The club hosts regular potlucks. Community members use the building for family reunions, weddings and funerals. People can borrow tables and chairs for an event at their own house. There’s no set rent; instead, people are encouraged to make a contribution, Tonseth said. “That would all go away if there’s no schoolhouse. There’s no other place to meet,” he said.
Tonseth’s history with the building goes back even further. He attended first through third grade in the one-room schoolhouse and, in 1947, was one of three third-graders in its last year of classes. The building sat idle until the community club began using it 12 years later.
It was a condition of the draft purchase-and-sale agreement that the fire district would leave the schoolhouse intact and sign an agreement with the community club assuring they could continue to use the schoolhouse, said Goodnight, who stopped by the coffee gathering in Methow the morning after the board meeting to chat with community members.
“We were looking for a win for the school district, the fire district, and the community of Methow,” Goodnight said.
The school district paid about $5,000 to upgrade the wiring and heating about 15 years ago, but ongoing costs to the district are nominal. Still, the district would like to have cash to put toward programs closer to its campus in Pateros. The old schoolhouse in Methow is the only property the district owns outside Pateros, Goodnight said.
Under the terms of the draft purchase-and-sale agreement, the fire district would have paid $50,000 for the house and property. In addition, it would have burned a no-longer-habitable house the school district owns in Pateros for firefighter training, Goodnight said. Burning the house would have benefited the school district because estimates for demolition came in at $30,000, Goodnight said.
As a result, the deal was valued at $80,000, Goodnight said. The Okanogan County assessor appraised the Methow schoolhouse property, which is just under an acre, at $90,000. The fire district owns 6,000 square feet on the adjacent parcel.
The fire district is still open to burning the Pateros house as a training exercise but, without revenue from the property sale, the school district doesn’t have enough money to clean up the site afterward, Goodnight said.
The Pateros School District has owned the 1,378-square-foot building in Methow since the mid-1930s, Goodnight said. The district holds school board meetings there once a year to encourage Methow constituents to attend. The community club uses the building for free; the club maintains the building and grounds.
The school board will continue to search for a buyer sensitive to the needs of both the fire district and the Methow community, but they’re not formally putting the house on the market, Goodnight said.