Recent grads gather to mourn their middle school

Bystanders gather early Thursday morning, Nov. 5, 2009 to watch firefighters battle a major fire at Whatcom Middle School.
Bystanders gather early Thursday morning, Nov. 5, 2009 to watch firefighters battle a major fire at Whatcom Middle School. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

BELLINGHAM - A group of Bellingham High School freshmen gathered on the sidewalk on D Street outside fire-gutted Whatcom Middle School Thursday, Nov., 5, wondering how long it would be before another class could graduate from its 106-year-old walls.

"That was my class right there," a tearful Ali Striker said as she pointed to an upper floor window that showed a view of sky where the ceiling used to be. "It's strange to see it like that. I don't know what to say. ... It's so weird to see something that you were learning in and socializing in, just kind of die."

Kenya Siltanen felt the same.

"It's just crazy," Siltanen said. "All my closest friends met here, some of the friends that we'll have for life - we met here. ... It's just crazy that it's gone."

She and other students from last spring's Whatcom graduating class recalled the papier mache fish they crafted as sixth-graders. Some of those creations were still hanging from school walls when the flames raced through.

"It was nice to know we did something that was going to be there for a long time," Siltanen said. "I was going to take my kids," she added, setting off whoops of laughter from her pals.

Olivia Halverson said she had dropped in at her old middle school just last Monday to say hi to some favorite teachers. Her Whatcom roots run deep: her parents and grandparents attended the school.

"This was where we all met each other and developed into who we are," she said.

Bailey Vallee was student body president at Whatcom last school year.

"I thought about the teachers and how devastated they would be," Vallee said. "I thought of all the books in the library, and all the money. I couldn't believe it."

Caleb Carroll, also a Bellingham High freshman, was one of several present and former students who said how much they appreciated the school's atmosphere.

"It was pretty cool," Carroll said. "It had a lot of really cool old architecture."

All the recent grads said they enjoyed having a school in their neighborhood, walking to school each morning with friends.

Judy Dudley, who lives nearby on Broadway, knows it may be awhile before her 11-year-old son, Lyman, can do that again.

The Dudleys moved here from Anacortes just last summer.

"This beautiful school was a drawing point for moving to this neighborhood," she said. "We'd love to see our Whatcom community held together, but it's hard to imagine where they could find a facility to keep us all together."

School officials had not yet figured out Thursday where to move the students and staff.

Lyman said he'll miss the historic atmosphere in the school's auditorium, and the foosball and ping pong tables available after lunch on rainy days - even though you had to eat fast to be sure of getting a ping pong paddle.

"It's a pretty friendly school," he said.

Many neighbors said they hope the building can be saved.

"I'm just hoping it's not going to be a total loss," neighbor Dave Crider said. "We're hoping for the best."

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