San de Fuca School donation turned down

The future of the famous San de Fuca schoolhouse overlooking Penn Cove is unknown.

Joe Keeva, owner of the former one-room schoolhouse, tried to donate the building and property to the Island County Historical Society, but the society’s board of trustees rejected the donation during a meeting last week.

“I’m shocked,” Keeva said of the board’s decision.

“We didn’t want to get into an economic bind,” said Rick Walti, member of the board of trustees.

In response, Keeva said he’s going to put the 110-year-old structure and 2.75 acres, valued at more than $300,000, on the market. He said he is still negotiating a conservation easement with Ebey’s Landing Historical Reserve, which would protect the property from further development.

There’s some disagreement between Keeva and a board member about the sequence of events leading to the rejection of the gift.

Keeva said he first offered the historic schoolhouse to the historical society last spring. As a board member himself, he felt it would be appropriate for the society to own the building. He hoped to make the donation in memory of his wife, Sally, who wanted to see it preserved. Sally died last year after the couple restored the building in 2003.

In addition, Keeva offered $50,000 for an endowment to fund maintenance. He said the money could last seven to 10 years. He added that renting the building out for events could have provided another income source for the school house.

But as months passed by without a decision by the board, Keeva reduced the donation offer to $25,000.

“It was discussed a number of times but no one came up with any conclusion,” Keeva said. He wanted the donation completed by the end of 2005 for tax purposes.

On the other side, Walti said the board of trustees rejected Keeva’s gift because the society doesn’t have the money for upkeep of the building.

Walti said the board wasn’t aware of Keeva’s offer until last fall. He said the decision was delayed because of threat of possible litigation on the property and then because Keeva had to complete a archeological study on the property.

Walti points out that Keeva rescinded the offer to give the society $25,000 at the last meeting. Without any money for an endowment, Walti said board members felt there was no way to take on the added financial burden from the schoolhouse.

“The bottom line is that we really appreciate the offer,” Walti said. “It’s a very nice offer for Joe to make. It’s just economically, it wasn’t feasible.”

Cindy Gass Johnson, executive director of the historical society, said on a personal note that she is disappointed that the proposed donation didn’t work out.

Last fall, she said was excited about the possibilities. She said the society could use the building for educational tours, student tours, facility rentals for weddings and other events, and as an interpretive center.

Keeva said he plans to resign from the board of trustees.

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