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Art school, waterworks are the latest ideas for Langley fire hall

The concepts keep coming for the city’s vacant fire station, but officials are still hoping to see some money.

Two new proposals have been added to a list of potential tenants that already includes several names, but most are seeking ways to work with the city without putting out a lot of cash.

“I wish we could do everything,” City Councilman Bob Waterman said this week. “Maybe we should build another fire hall.”

The 3,090-square-foot fire station on Second Street downtown became surplus when Island County Fire District 3 moved to its new $1.5 million station on Camano Avenue this past fall.

The city has been seeking a lease commitment of $2,500 a month.

One of the latest proposals would be for classroom, studio and workshop space for what proponents say would be an expansion of a local art school that’s rapidly reaching international acclaim.

“The fire hall has the potential for everything we’re looking for,” said Sue Symons, executive director of Pacific Northwest Art School, formerly the Coupeville Arts Center, and a program of the nonprofit Whidbey Island Arts Council.

“We need a presence in Langley,” Symons said.

A second proposal floated this week would be for a facility containing interactive water displays to attract children and families from throughout the region.

“It’s a marvelous building for this,” said Tom Lindsey of Langley, who designed a similar installation of trays, fountains, wheels and funky balls and funnels in San Jose, Calif., along with other water-related educational projects throughout the United States.

“It would be a fabulous community project,” added Lynn Willeford, a Langley activist and a proponent of a waterworks. “It would bring families from all over, because it would be so cool.”

Symons said her art school annually attracts serious students from throughout the world, and that the school needs room to expand.

Langley is an ideal location for that expansion, she said, because of its seaside vistas, its easy access from the greater Puget Sound region, its abundance of services and entertainment — and mostly because of its artistic emphasis and reputation.

“It’s time for there to be an arts school here of some renown,” Symons said. “It could become a powerful force on this island.”

She said the Coupeville school annually attracts as many as 800 amateur and professional adult students from throughout the world to be taught by an acclaimed visiting faculty of as many as 70.

She said that two years ago, instructors and students attending the school, and members of their families, pumped more than $250,000 into the Coupeville community through room rentals, meals and purchases.

Symons said that when the school isn’t in session, the fire hall facilities could be used for local art activities such as lessons for youngsters and beginners, and gallery space for local artists.

“The ideal would be a community resource that can be used in a variety of ways,” she said.

“But we have no money,” Symons told the city council. “There isn’t $2,500 anywhere. This is a proposal for a partnership.”

She predicted that once the school took off, it would become mostly self-sustaining, and the community would gain the residual benefits.

“We’re prepared to bring the economy to Langley, not BE the economy,” she added. “It would be a low-cost experiment, in a sense.”

City Councilman Robert Gilman was enthusiastic.

“This fits well into Langely’s DNA,” he told Symons. “If you don’t wind up in the fire hall, we still want you to wind up in Langley.”

Lindsey said a creative and educational collection of water displays would fit nicely into a portion of the fire station, say 1,600 square feet, for “an interactive water sculpture for people from

1 to 99 to enjoy.”

He said the displays could reflect the surrounding marine environment, “and wouldn’t cost that much.” He said the project probably would involve a 1,000-gallon tank, a pump and a sophisticated filtration system.

“A child has to be able to drink the water, because they will,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey and Willeford said their idea is still in the early stages, and a more definite cost presentation could be ready within six months.

“It would be a great use of local talent, and a fun thing to do,” Lindsey said.

Proposals already on the list for the fire hall include a fitness and boxing center, an expanded Whidbey Island Soap Company, a local artisan marketplace and a fine-arts-center idea proposed by owners of a similar operation in Fall City in King County.

Owners of the Chocolate Flower Farm, who late last year appeared to be on the verge of signing a lease, still remain interested, officials said.

Mayor Paul Samuelson said that in these difficult economic times, the city must balance financial assistance with the need for revenue.

“But money follows vision,” he added, “and we have more ideas than spaces.”

He said he and other city officials would continue to try to determine the best uses for the fire hall and other vacant buildings in Langley.

“It doesn’t make sense to have buildings standing empty,” Gilman said. “Maybe we should start incubating these things.”

Added Waterman: “If we had all these things going simultaneously, we’d really put ourselves on the map.”

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