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Construction begins on S'Klallam early childhood education center

LITTLE BOSTON — The old, 1,500-square-foot building had a long, productive life.

It’s widely understood to be the oldest building on the Port Gamble S’Klallam reservation, but there are different estimations of when it was built. Retired educator June Jones believes it was in the 1920s or ’30s. If built pre-1935, that would mean people were still living at Point Julia when it was built. An earlier Herald story put the year of construction as 1939.

In the ensuing years, according to Early Childhood Education director Jacki Haight, it was a community hall, grocery store, smoke shop, gathering place. It was previously located where the Head Start playground is now; it had a big basement then, said Jake Jones, master carver and S’Klallam chairman in the 1970s. He said the Tribal Council met there when he was chairman. Head Start moved into the building in 1986.

Workers began dismantling the old building Tuesday to make room for a new $1.1 million early childhood education center. But the old building will continue to be a part of the community, and not just as a memory.

The totem pole erected in the mid-2000s to honor June Jones’ commitment to children will be erected in front of the new education center; the pole was carved by Jake Jones, her husband, at the request of the education center. Some portion of old timber will be used in the new building, Haight said; workers hope a beam that was initialed by the workers who built the building wasn’t replaced during an earlier renovation. And community members were invited to salvage all the reusable items in the building: doors and windows, laminate flooring, kitchen cabinets, toilets and sinks.

Head Start staff members walked through the old building a final time Monday after a groundbreaking ceremony, looking through boxes of stuff that had been left behind and sometimes finding a treasure — a toy, an award certificate, class photos.

A new 5,100-square-foot preschool will soon rise in the old building’s place. Project architect Roy Hellwig of Sequim is enthusiastic. The design is modern with historic elements: Siding that recalls the plank siding of longhouses, a living roof with native plants. When it rains, water will flow from the roof to streamed in an open courtyard. The design reflects the S’Klallam people’s connection with their environment, Hellwig said.

In spring, Haight said her department accommodates up to 32 Early Head Start children and 37 Head Start children, and also provides special education assistance and before- and after-school care. The new education center will enable her to expand her extended-day programs and offer on-site emotional skills support, mental health services and speech therapy.

Construction is being funded in part by a $500,000 federal grant. An Oct. 22 event, “An Evening of Northwest Art, Singing & Dance," raised almost $20,000. “It’s been a long time coming,” Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said of the new childhood education center. “We are excited about our investments in our children and this project is another example of that.”

Then, June Jones, the retired BIA teacher, education manager and consultant, went to work for children again, offering a prayer that God would bless the children “in a mighty, marvelous way.”

The S’Klallam Singers sang the Chief Dan George prayer song, also known as the Coast Salish Anthem. Then, S’Klallam officials, teachers and contractor donned helmets, took hold of gold-painted shovels and did the customary turning of the dirt.

The rest will happen quickly, contractor Jack Grinnell of Jamestown S’Klallam said. The roof will be completed by November. The entire project will be completed by mid-February: A new place, representing hope for the future and containing pieces of the past.

 

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