Editorial: Opportunity lost at San de Fuca

How it happened is murky, but this community lost a historic opportunity to preserve the San de Fuca schoolhouse and its beautiful surroundings for generations to come.

The little school on the grassy hill overlooking Penn Cove has stood for nearly a century. It gained a new lease on life a few years ago when it was purchased and restored by the late Sally Hayton-Keeva. Although an islander only since the late ‘90s, Hayton-Keeva made impressive contributions to historic preservation, not only with the schoolhouse and other buildings but by writing a column that became a book, “Ancestral Walls: Old Abodes of Central Whidbey Island.”

With the tragic and untimely death of Hayton-Keeva to cancer nearly two years ago, the future of the schoolhouse was suddenly in doubt. Her husband, Joe Keeva, a former member of the Coupeville City Council, made some effort to assure its future while also preparing to sell the schoolhouse property.

What appeared to be a generous offer made to the Island County Historical Society was turned down. Keeva proposed donating the schoolhouse with some cash for future maintenance. But the society didn’t want to risk taking on another big project besides the museum. Managing the schoolhouse and providing continuing funding for its maintenance was too big a gamble for a small group of volunteers.

Next, Keeva tried negotiating a scenic easement with Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, but he found the proposed language too restrictive. Rob Harbor, reserve manager, said it was standard language used for properties in the area, so one can infer that Keeva wanted less protection for the schoolhouse and the two-parcels totaling 6.2 acres it sits on.

As things now stand, the property is for sale for $629,000, and the only protection for the schoolhouse or the land is an expressed desire by Keeva to find a buyer who wants to protect both to the extent possible.

Probably, the best the public can now hope for is to one day see the schoolhouse still standing, but a new home built in the immediate vicinity. The historic view of the country schoolhouse sitting alone atop the hill will be gone.

It’s probably safe to say that Sally Hayton-Keeva would be as upset as anyone about a situation where her beloved little schoolhouse is facing an uncertain future, and a treasured Central Whidbey vista is threatened. Only a change of heart by a certain property owner could make things right.

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