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Lighthouse project wraps for South Whidbey High School

Taylor Jensen works on the hinge pins for the lantern room door of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse. The sophomore at South Whidbey High School just finished her first semester in the metals class that worked on most of the brass pieces.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Taylor Jensen works on the hinge pins for the lantern room door of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse. The sophomore at South Whidbey High School just finished her first semester in the metals class that worked on most of the brass pieces.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — The light at the end of the tunnel finally came for South Whidbey High School students.

After months of grueling and sometimes tedious work, the school year ended and the Admiralty Head Lighthouse project came to a close. Students have been pouring hours into recreating the original Admiralty Head lantern house since 2010.

The current lantern house at Admiralty Head Lighthouse is a thin, Plexiglas version put in place after the original lantern house was removed in the early 1900s. The poor ventilation causes it to heat up quickly, causing discomfort for summer tourists climbing the spiral stairs to see the light in the lantern house at the top.

The tub, or bottom portion of the lantern house, that South Whidbey students in Chad Felgar’s shop and metals classes had fabricated was welded and bolted to the window frame. The upper parts supplied by Oak Harbor and Coupeville high schools.

Like many large scale projects with different contractors, the lighthouse needs a little more work before it can be installed at Fort Casey. In total, 85 students worked on the project, including design, public relations, welding and grinding.

With the school year finished, students spent the final two days in Felgar’s class cleaning the tools, floor and entire shop. Others, like sophomore Taylor Jensen, were still spinning and cutting the brass pins for the three hinges of the door to the lantern room.

“It’s hard work, but it’s fun,” she said, with protective goggles on and her cutting machine shaping the head of the pin.

Taylor was a novice to the shop and metals world. She had taken a few engineering classes prior to Felgar’s shop course, which came in handy when she designed the pins and vent covers.

More experienced welding students like Zack Caravan handled the integrity portions. He welded the tub to the middle section, and the top. As a student in independent study with Felgar, Caravan’s job is to keep himself busy with welding projects, and the lighthouse required lots of welding. Pieces like the beauty bars across the top of the tub now look as if they were always curved, angled and prefabricated, but students like Caravan had to bend, cut and shape the metals to fit the original design plans of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse.

“We did a lot of touch ups and beauty work on this, as a class,” Caravan said.

It is, after all, a designated landmark, and to keep that status it must be nearly identical to the original. Materials for the project were mostly donated, which along with the work supplied by students, was estimated to be worth $93,000, Felgar said. Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland donated the metal, along with Seaport Steel in Seattle, while Simmons Glass of Clinton will do the windows.

That’s just as well. Felgar’s most experienced students were finished with the lighthouse long before it was done. Drilling through the metal could take hours for only a few holes, at the cost of several broken drill bits.

“You’d be breaking bits and throwing things,” Caravan said.

“We’ve probably gone through 100 drill bits,” added junior Lucas Barker.

There was some bad news for Caravan, though he already knew it. Work was far from over. The metal needed to be primed and painted after some beads from less than wonderful welds are ground out and smoothed over.

A vent was installed at the base of the tub and at the top of the cone. During the summer when visitors climb up to the lantern room, the temperature spikes in the panoramic glass enclosure. Now, thanks to the students and Wesley Thorsen, who made the vent covers, the room should be more bearable in summer. Thorsen, a junior, worked on the two brass vent cover plates for three weeks. That’s 90-minutes each period, five days per week, for three weeks on covers that measure about 1 foot-by-six inches.

“It was really tedious,” Thorsen said.

“It’s kind of cool to see it all come together in the end.”

For the part-time teacher, the lighthouse was a guiding light for the dwindling shop program. Budget cuts have reduced the South Whidbey School District’s ability to finance elective courses like Advanced Metals. With more than 80 students having a hand in building the lighthouse over more than a year, Felgar was pleased with its inclusiveness.

“The cool part was including everybody,” he said. “It’s real life for them. They just want to be a part of a build. They want to work with their hands.”

The lighthouse will be moved to Fort Casey in early fall. Felgar said he’d like to have a ceremony with as many students who worked on the Admiralty Head Lighthouse as possible to attend.

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