New old school: Sula schoolhouse being restored by historical society
Students from the Trapper Creek Job Corps prepare the historic Sula schoolhouse for a coat of primer on Thursday afternoon.

SULA - For more than 100 years, the Sula Schoolhouse has endured everything the merciless Montana weather threw at it: sun, blistering heat, rain, wind, snow and freezing cold winters. It has fared relatively well all things considered.

This spring, though, the Sula Community Historical Society has decided it's time to give the building a facelift, and restore some of its historic charm.

"This is a big deal to the people in Sula who drive by every day and see the old worn-out schoolhouse," said Bill Reed, who is spearheading the project. "It is a topic of conversation every year at our community potluck. It has been more of an eyesore than anything, and has sat in disrepair for many years. Finally this year, we just decided if we don't do it now, it will never happen."

The historical society was able to secure the services of the Trapper Creek Job Corps, which sent over a group of students to sandblast the building and put on a fresh coat of primer and two coats of new paint. Four students from the painting program, along with instructor Dennis Mersman, spent Thursday afternoon pulling out old nails from the building and prepping the wood for the primer. Besides the fresh paint on the outside, Reed plans to restore the inside, replacing the windows, and possibly replacing the cedar shingles on the roof if he can secure the funding.

"We couldn't have done it without the help of the Trapper Creek Job Corps," Reed said. "Especially their expertise. I'm just a retired cop, so I don't know all there is to know about this stuff. I helped build my own house, but having those guys here is really a great help."

It's a win for everyone, as the students in the painting program get to spend a week outdoors learning a lifelong skill.

"It's a basic introduction to the painting world," Mersman said. "But there are so many other things they can get into if they stick with it. They're learning brush and roller work, drywall finishing, paper hanging, texturing, Genie lift operation, scaffold operation and respirators. If they stick with it and get their journeyman card, they can take that anywhere in the country and get a good-paying job, and they won't even have to look."

Reed said it is unclear whether the schoolhouse was built in 1893 or 1907, but either way, it's pretty old and was long overdue for some repair. The historical society, which was formed in the mid-1980s, banded together last year to renovate the Sula Community Clubhouse just down the road, and everyone decided the schoolhouse was next.

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"While we have some money that has been donated, the project seemed too daunting to take on," Reed explained. "We were simply lacking manpower to complete the work. Well that has changed now. We decided to just go ahead and start. We've been busy getting donations up and down the valley in materials and equipment, and we feel we complete the restoration this summer. The roof is the main sticking point now, because we feel it would be best to stick with the cedar shingles because they are more historical, but we can't get anybody to touch them for the money we have. So we'll worry about that later."

Reed said he even found a sawmill operator in the East Fork to donate some unused wood for the project.

"So all the wood we're using came from the East Fork," Reed said. "Which I'm pretty sure the schoolhouse was originally built with wood from here. People may not be able to tell the difference, but it's important to me."

The schoolhouse should be finished and looking great by the middle of this summer.

"As long as it's finished by duck hunting season, that's what I'm hoping for," Reed said with a grin.

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at 363-3300 or david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.