Dark, smelly and old.
That’s how Stephen Kearns remembers Building 18 when he studied the machine trades at Clover Park Vocational Technical Institute in the late 1970s.
“It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer,” Kearns said of Building 18, which today remains one of the oldest buildings on the sprawling campus on Steilacoom Boulevard in Lakewood.
The spartan cinder block structure was built during World War II when the property was part of a U.S. Navy depot. Over the years, the building has seen many uses. Most recently, it housed an auto restoration program with ties to the LeMay car museum.
The building is emblematic of the surrounding 134-acre campus and its transformation from auto-racing track to airfield to a training grounds for essential civilian labor during the war effort of the 1940s and for the generations since then.
Now it’s being dismantled to make way for green space on the Lakewood campus, known today as Clover Park Technical College.
The school says it’s letting go of the past, with respect and affection, while preparing for the future during its 70th anniversary year.
Kearns, who turns 60 on Saturday, is a bridge to both eras at Clover Park.
More than three decades after using G.I. Bill benefits to pay for his machinist’s training, and after a career with Boeing that ended in 2007, he has returned seeking an associate’s degree in human services. He hopes for a new career counseling people who are chemically dependent.
What drew him back to Clover Park?
“The experience I had the first time,” he said.
During a recent visit to Building 18, he pointed to the spot where he was hired by Boeing to manufacture aircraft parts.
“I learned to cut metal and make fiberglass and plastic parts,” he said. “It was the thing of the future when I was here.”
Demolition of Building 18 is expected to be completed this month. Parts will live on, however.
Timbers from the roof will form a staircase in one of Clover Park’s newest facilities, a health sciences building now under construction. The $21 million structure will more than double the size of the college’s old health professions training building. It is scheduled for completion in June 2013.
Wood from Building 18 also will provide trim for the circulation desk when the campus library is remodeled starting this summer.
Clover Park officials say they decided to tear down the old Navy building because it was decaying and repairs would have been costly.
President John Walstrum said the college tried to be sensitive to its past. In March, the college held a de-commissioning ceremony.
Glen Spieth, vice president of the Lakewood Historical Society and a member of the city’s landmarks board, attended the event to talk about the campus’ rich history.
He explained that 100 years ago, the site housed the Tacoma Speedway auto-racing track.
“It was the Indianapolis Speedway of this area,” he said. “It was on the same (racing) circuit.”
The speedway went out of business in the 1920s, and the property was turned into an airfield. Spieth said one building remains on the campus from this era, an old aircraft hangar that the historical society would love to use for a museum someday.
The Navy arrived in Lakewood in the 1940s. Jeeps and trucks lined up around the property to load supplies from warehouses and take them to ships waiting at the Port of Tacoma.
During World War II, the Clover Park School District established a program that trained civilians as auto and aircraft mechanics, and as ship fitters, welders and in other jobs needed for the war effort.
In 1951, the federal government was phasing out the Navy depot and the school district was given 130 acres. But the district moved to other Lakewood locations, and the old Navy property was soon transformed into a vocational training institute.
This year, CPTC is celebrating 70 years of learning on the site.
“We’re a different institution than we were even 20 years ago,” Walstrum said.
Kearns said he won’t miss the old Building 18 where he learned his trade. But he will treasure recollections of his student days there.
“There were a lot of great memories,” he said. “A lot of learning.”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 email@example.com