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Developers check out Langley Middle School

Langley Middle School may be under  consideration for conversion to a brew pub. The building was once home to Langley High School. - Brian Kelly
Langley Middle School may be under consideration for conversion to a brew pub. The building was once home to Langley High School.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

The future of two South Whidbey schools — the venerable Langley Middle School and the Intermediate School — is up for debate.

Depending on the findings of the South Whidbey School District’s facility use committee, one of them could be transformed into a brew pub or even a small hotel or convention center.

The middle school facility particularly fits in nicely with the concept begun by the Portland, Ore.-based McMenamin brothers in the late 1970s. They specialize in converting old schools into businesses in cooperation with the local community.

On June 25, superintendent Fred McCarthy and school board members Rich Parker and Steven Scoles toured the Middle School and the Intermediate School with Michael and Brian McMenamin.

McCarthy was familiar with the brothers’ efforts in other communities and initiated the contact.

In an e-mail to district employees after the tour, McCarthy said the visit was just part of the review process for the district’s facility use study.

“This step was one of many taken to have as much data and input as possible,” McCarthy said. “There is no commitment or implied relationship in this move. At this stage, all ideas are welcome.”

The district has recently intensified efforts to deal with a looming financial dilemma — too many classrooms and not enough students as enrollment declines. It put together a committee last year to study the future use of its facilities.

Scoles noted that the district has made no decision on whether one or both buildings will be mothballed, or even when.

And he isn’t sure the McMenamin concept would work on South Whidbey.

“The middle school would be of more value to them because of its proximity to downtown Langley,” Scoles said. “However, most of their projects are located in much larger urban areas with lots of traffic, year-around. Langley is a much smaller venue for them.”

One example of how the school might be used is the Kennedy Elementary School near Portland’s airport. Since it opened in 1915, this historic structure has been a fixture in its northeast Portland neighborhood.

The McMenamins renovated the once-abandoned school and turned it into a small hotel with 35 guest rooms fashioned from former classrooms — complete with original chalkboards and cloakrooms, private baths, telephones and modems — plus a restaurant, multiple bars, a movie theater, soaking pool and a working brewery. Extensive original artwork and historical photographs cover the walls, ceilings, doorways and hallways.

During the tour, Scoles was unable to determine the brothers’ level of interest in either site.

“Frankly, I think it’s a long shot,” Scoles added. “But it’s part of our job to examine all the possibilities.”

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