Boat Building School gets grant

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 8/14/18

The Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building is getting a renovation from some former students, thanks to funding from the state's Heritage Capital Grants programs.Brent Davis Construction is based …

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Boat Building School gets grant

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The Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building is getting a renovation from some former students, thanks to funding from the state's Heritage Capital Grants programs.

Brent Davis Construction is based in Port Townsend, but before he was working in construction, Brent Davis was a 1997 alum of the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, back when it was still located on Otto Street.

Betsy Davis, executive director of the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, recalled that it moved to its current location in Port Hadlock in 1998, one year later.

Since then, the school's facilities have grown to include a second building overlooking the water in 2002, followed by incremental acquisitions of property up the hill in 2005, 2011 and 2017, each phase of which Betsy Davis noted was made possible in no small part thanks to the support of the surrounding community.

With the construction that Brent Davis and his crews have been carrying out in August, Betsy Davis explained that the repairs to the campus seawall and the leaky roofs are being implemented right before the rainy season hits, all while the school responds to industry calls for training in new specialties.

“This makes a huge difference to the school, that we're able to fix up some of our boat shop classrooms immediately, because they’re threatened by the tides and by the leaks in the roofs,” Betsy Davis said. “We're growing, so there's a lot of need for these facilities. The boat school helps train additional people for jobs in the marine industry, and we couldn't do that without the facility.”

As The Leader has previously reported, within the past year, the school has expanded its curricula beyond wooden boatbuilding, to add instruction in marine electronics, engines, diesels, hydraulics, corrosion and plumbing, all skills which Betsy Davis has pointed out will be increasingly in-demand as Baby Boomers continue to retire.

“For 37 years, we focused on wooden boatbuilding,” Betsy Davis said. “We're going to continue that, but we're adding this other dimension. We've added a six-month program to teach marine systems. We've also added a one-week program, for people in the industry to come in and learn intensively about a single topic, such as electrical or hydraulics. This is for working professionals who want to advance their skills in a particular area.”

This growth in programs had placed additional pressure on the school's existing facilities, which made it all the more imperative, to Betsy Davis' mind, that Brent Davis Construction be able to complete their renovations prior to the high tides of winter.

But even as Betsy Davis touted the school as helping to meet increased maritime job opportunities, which in turn she sees as creating well-paying jobs in rural communities that badly need them, she acknowledged that the state Heritage Capital Projects Fund is less concerned with drawing younger people and families to the county, than with preserving its history.

“On the lowest end of our Hadlock campus, we have a unique historic district,” Betsy Davis said. “It's nice to see historic buildings put to historic uses, building boats like they were more than 100 years ago. The Galster House, which we recently purchased, is even on the National Register of Historic Places.”

Betsy Davis explained how the school had to raise $742,000 in donations, from individuals and foundations, to meet its 2-to-1 qualification requirement to receive the remaining $360,000 in state funds from the Heritage Capital Projects Fund.

“We had to have 80 percent of that money in hand,” said Betsy Davis, who thanked not only state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege,  but also state representatives Mike Chapman and Steve Tharinger, all of the 24th Legislative District, fore helping to deliver those funds.

By helping to retain the rural character of small towns like Port Hadlock, Betsy Davis sees the grant funds as contributing to historic preservation which, in turn, will feed into further local economic expansion, by supplying workers for the Port Townsend boatyard and beyond.

Brent Davis is but one of the more than 1,500 students to have graduated from the accredited, post-secondary, nonprofit trade school.

“It's been great,” Brent Davis said of returning to his alma mater, where he'd worked as part of other construction companies in performing previous renovations. “I'm working on this site with multiple folks who have graduated from here, so it means a lot that we can come back here and help make this place last.”

Brent Davis credited the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building with supplying him with the same foundational skills he would use to restore the school's facilities in turn.

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