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Repairs help preserve Camp Casey history

Nate Kaplan of Sedro-Woolley based Kaplan Homes Unlimited works on replacing the siding on the auditorium at Camp Casey Conference Center near Coupeville. Owned by Seattle Pacific University, the conference center hosts a variety of retreats including outdoor education, scouting, church meetings and sports camps at the decommissioned Army fort. Repairs and upgrades are currently under way at the facility. - Elisabeth Murray photo
Nate Kaplan of Sedro-Woolley based Kaplan Homes Unlimited works on replacing the siding on the auditorium at Camp Casey Conference Center near Coupeville. Owned by Seattle Pacific University, the conference center hosts a variety of retreats including outdoor education, scouting, church meetings and sports camps at the decommissioned Army fort. Repairs and upgrades are currently under way at the facility.
— image credit: Elisabeth Murray photo

For the overnight facility at Camp Casey Conference Center southwest of Coupeville, the future is looking bright.

“We are very excited,” said Darrell Jacobsen, site manager for the conference center and Fort Casey Inn.

The center recently began extensive renovations.

For the past 56 years, Seattle Pacific University has cared for this piece of history, but this stewardship has not always been easy.

For more than 70 years, the elements have battered the World War II-era barracks and accessory buildings and money has not always been available to immediately care for them.

“The ongoing maintenance of a facility like this one is an enormous responsibility,” Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve Manager Mark Preiss said. “It is a huge complex.”

The reserve provides technical support to historic property owners.

Although owned by Seattle Pacific University, the Camp Casey Conference Center is self-sustaining and it doesn’t get any money from the college to pay for repairs. Nor does it contribute to the college’s coffers.

The money the center brings in from groups renting the facilities goes back into caring for the historic property.

The camp hosts a variety of retreats including outdoor education, scouting, church meetings and sports camps.

For the past few years, the camp has also hosted portions of the Ebey’s Forever Conference. Basing the conference at a historic property made sense, Preiss said, as it gave people a chance to visit the site and hear stories about its history.

In recent years, the poor economy coupled with the aging facilities impacted the center’s ability to attract groups for overnight visits – especially ones with adults as the primary participants.

The reduced revenue led to repairs being deferred, butting the historic structures at risk of further deterioration.

But work is now underway to repair these aging buildings.

An added benefit from the maintenance project is that in addition to drawing more visitors to the area, it will provide jobs and help the local economy during the construction, said Jacobsen. The Sedro-Woolley-based contractor hired to do the siding and roofing will hire subcontractors that will help stimulate the local economy, he said.

According to Preiss, whose office has been working closely with Jacobsen, “they are really trying to do it right.” They are sensitive to the authenticity of the landscape, he said.

Named in honor of Brigadier General Thomas Lincoln Casey, the last U.S. Army chief of engineers, this fort had guarded the entrance to Puget Sound.

From 1890 until the 1950s, Fort Casey along with Fort Worden and Fort Flagler, collectively known as the “triangle of fire,” defended against invasion.

Decommissioned in the 1950s, the fort was broken in two and the state park system cares for the armaments at Fort Casey State Park, while the housing and parade grounds became the responsibility of the conference center.

In recent weeks, the siding was stripped off the auditorium, the building closest to Engle Road, and it was properly insulated for the first time before replacement siding was installed. The roof will also be replaced and windows refurbished.

In the coming months four more historic buildings will get much needed repairs. And while the buildings are modernized, the repairs will maintain the historic look.

Repairs to the World War II era structures will cost approximately $1.5 million.

Mess Hall A, one of the camps eating places, will increase its capacity with additional seating and the kitchen will be updated with a new walk-in freezer added.

The improvements to the conference center should also bring in more revenue, said Jacobsen.

More adult groups will take advantage of the incredible location overlooking the Olympic Mountain range across Admiralty Inlet once upgrades are completed, said Robyn Myers, manager of conference services.

While kids appreciated the rustic environment, the noise level at the kitchen, “the hub of Camp Casey,” discouraged adult guests from enjoying the space, said Myers.

“Adults don’t want to sit on stools and not be able to hear conversations,” she said, illustrating the need for the upgrades.

The space will undergo sound attenuation to make it more conducive to holding conversations, she said.

Money to pay for improvements comes from the first sale of the Naas Natural Area Preserve property, a 33-acre parcel sold to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust for prairie restoration.

A deal to sell 60 additional acres is still in the works.

Conference center employees said they hope to have the construction project completed by June 2013.

“This is a big undertaking,” Jacobsen said.

 

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