Restoration work to the exterior of Avola’s log schoolhouse is nearly done and it appears to meet the approval of many, although not all, of the community’s residents.
Much of the credit for bringing people onside has to go to contractor Brad Dohms, according to Sherri Madden, Thompson-Nicola Regional District coordinator for Area B (Thompson Headwaters) and Area A (Wells Gray Country).
“At the regional district we’re very happy with how the work has been progressing and the processes being used,” Madden said.
The former one-room schoolhouse was built in 1939 and is noteworthy for its closely fitted dovetail corner joints.
It is incorrect to describe the building as hand-hewn, said Dohms.That term is usually reserved for buildings made with squared timbers that had been flattened or hewn with a broadaxe.
The Avola log schoolhouse was built with round logs.The only squared timbers are those along the sill or bottom of the structure. These appear to have been squared by a machine in a mill, not by hand.
An axe or hatchet was used for finishing touches while positioning the logs, he said, but that is not unusual in a log building.
He also questioned statements that the building was made with cedar logs. In fact, the logs consist of a variety of species, including cedar, but also spruce, fir and possibly others.
The question of what species the logs were became an issue because some people feared the walnut shell spray that was planned for the building would damage the cedar, which becomes quite brittle when old.
As it turned out, they ended up using the walnut shell spray only on a limited section to remove graffiti and paint, said Dohms.
“We needed to use hammers, chisels and then wire brushes to remove the old cement caulking,” he said. “By the time we had done that, we figured we might as well just finish the logs off with wire brushes.”
The use of stain on the previously untreated logs also was a cause of controversy.Pigment in the stain is necessary to prevent further UV deterioration of the logs, Dohms said.
Not wanting to hide the natural color variations in the wood, he mixed one part pigmented stain with three parts clear.
A variety of techniques were used to restore the logs.In places where large sections of the logs were deteriorated or even missing, wooden patches were used.
All softened wood was first removed, and the firmer wood behind was strengthened with wood petrifier – a product that both solidifies the wood plus helps keeps insects out.
A patch was then carefully carved out of a slab of wood to exactly fit in the excavated hole. It was then cut, shaped and stained to match the adjoining log.The patches are difficult to see, except from close up, and should become even less obvious with time.
Smaller holes, cracks and gaps were filled with eWood, an epoxy filler.Gaps between the logs were first filled with backer rod (a foam tube that flexes with the wood) and then with perma-chink.Although the men who built the schoolhouse were highly skilled, it was not true that there were no gaps between the logs before the restoration work began, Dohms said.
He pointed to a gap nearly one inch wide between two logs on the west (uphill) wall.Where there is still oakum filling the spaces in the corner notches, it is being left. Otherwise the spaces are being filled with perma-chink, which is more airtight and lasts longer.
A wide gap between the top of the walls and the roof that was previously open has been covered with metal mesh to help keep out birds and insects.
Work began on the restoration project on July 8 after being delayed for about two weeks because of a blockade by a group of Avola residents in late June.Dohms predicted the work should pretty well be done by the middle of this week.
The only major item left is construction of a wheelchair ramp for the building’s back door.
He said he got the impression that most residents of Avola appreciated the work he and his family were doing.People honk as they drive by or give friendly waves, he said.
Avola’s log schoolhouse is the third historic building he has restored for the TNRD, Dohms said. Before this he worked on the Blackpool Hall and the Upper Clearwater Hall.
Possibly the only remaining point of controversy might be the bright blue color chosen for the schoolhouse’s entryway.Before the work began it was a dull grey.Historic buildings in Kaslo and other communities are often painted with bright colors to make a statement, Dohms observed.
“Before it was grey, grey, grey. I wanted to brighten it up,” the contractor said.
“The beauty of paint is, if it’s not well received, it can always be changed,” Madden said.
Next on the agenda will be renovations to the schoolhouse’s interior, said the Area B services coordinator.
“We recognize that it is desirable to keep some features,” she said. “At the same time, we want to make the building more usable.”
The interior renovations will include some needed improvements to the building’s plumbing.The general public will be given opportunities for input on the plans, Madden said.
Possibly the work could be done this year, or possibly it will be put off until 2014.Public input also will be invited about proposed changes to the playground located across the street from the schoolhouse.
All the present playground equipment except the swings need to be replaced for insurance reasons, Madden said.The swings can stay, but must be re-located over a better surface.
Some Avola residents had objected that the set of playground equipment proposed to replace the existing equipment looked mass produced and did not reflect the unique character of the community.
The services coordinator said the TNRD was willing to look at alternatives, but the cost of purchasing the equipment and maintaining it also needed to be considered.