Nelson farmhouse on pace to meet deadline

POULSBO — It’s been a long, hard winter for the Bight of Poulsbo restoring the Nelson farmhouse, but founder Bill Austin now says he can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I haven’t had a day off all year,” Austin said recently, noting that he plans to travel to Costa Rica in June after the completion of the six-month project.

Renovation of the Nelson farmhouse, the early 1900s homestead of the Nelson family, has been a community-supported idea since the park’s master plan was approved in 1998. The house is to become the new caretaker’s abode.

But the project almost didn’t go through, not once, but twice.

The City of Poulsbo nearly razed the home a few years ago, until Austin stepped up and protested the move, pointing out that renovating the home had received “overwhelming support” from the community.

This was when the non-profit Bight of Poulsbo was born.

Then in December 2002, the fate of the home was again in question as a June 1 deadline was set for the completion of the renovation. Under a grant the Parks and Recreation Department received, the current caretaker’s home is set to be demolished this summer as part of the park’s development.

The City of Poulsbo was supposed to contribute $30,000 to the project, however, city staff requested a $100,000 performance bond from the Bight to do the work in order to save the city liability. Austin refused because obtaining the bond would have cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Finally, on Dec. 18, the city council’s last meeting of 2002, an agreement was made that the city could legally contribute $25,000 to the project and not require the performance bonds. The Bight had permits in hand on Dec. 19 and work began immediately.

The farmhouse had been neglected for many years, explained Austin, which meant that some damage was worse than it could have been. One entire back section of the home was so waterlogged, that it had to be removed and rebuilt. The house also required foundation work, sheet rock removal, installation of an entire electrical system, re-roofing and installation of new siding.

“Some people think I’m crazy,” Austin said with a chuckle. “They say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Well, some people climb mountains — that’s too boring.”

But now, the home looks significantly different. The missing section is covered by walls instead of a blue tarp. The windows are covered with storm windows, instead of being gaping holes. Electric wiring has been installed and sheet rock is nearly done. Austin said June 1 is an attainable goal.

“Of course, it will all be up to the city,” Austin explained. “We haven’t had the final inspection, if that passes they can move in. I’m confident we can do that in three weeks. It’ll be livable at least.”

And with a shoestring budget, Austin said the project’s success has been due mostly to generous donations from a long line of local businesses and community members. Among the major contributors are: Bird Electric, which donated a new electrical system for the house (Austin said he’d guess it’s a $5,000 value); Kingston Lumber, which helped the group procure items like storm windows and cedar shingles at cost (a 75 percent savings from regular retail); Rick Roach, who donated the sheet rock and helped with tape and mud work; and John Aitchison, who donated his work on the plumbing.

“When this is done I’m going to make a sign with the history of the farmhouse and listing all of the donors that people can come by and take a look at,” Austin said, noting that he appreciates all who supported the project, whether their contribution was big and small.

And of course the other group that’s made the transformation of the abode a success so far are volunteers, who have faithfully showed up to Saturday work parties since December.

“We’re still having the Saturday work parties, but I wish a few more people would show up,” Austin commented, noting that soon he’s going to need a lot of help cleaning up the construction site.

Besides volunteers, still on the Bight’s wish list for potential donations are carpet, wood flooring for the living rooms, linoleum flooring for the kitchen and bathrooms, new toilets and sinks for the home’s two bathrooms and house paint. Cash donations are always accepted as well.

“Now I’m spending big bucks because it’s probably all stuff I have to purchase,” Austin said. “I’ve probably gone over my limit.”

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