An abundance of asbestos: why the old East High hasn’t come down


Shame the producers of a SyFy zombie drama did not stick around Bremerton after filming aboard the USS Turner Joy recently. They could have found the disrepair of Bremerton’s former East High School campus fitting for scenes of a post-apocalyptic world.

About 100 of you came with me to the old school of Wheaton Way last Tuesday to tour the decaying school, and discuss a way forward to relinquish the property of a 125,000-square foot carcass we all agree is holding it back.


Many ideas have been floated for the property, owned by the Bremerton School District. I also do not want to undervalue the amazing things that are already happening there, primarily a teen center, soon-to-be renovated gymnasium and a number of sports fields already teeming with practicing youth.

But first things first.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to get those buildings down,” Aaron Leavell, Bremerton School District superintendent, told me.

Leavell said a survey in 2013 found it would cost about $1.5 million to tear down the building. The district doesn’t have the money to complete the job right now but would like to take care of it “sooner rather than later,” Leavell acknowledged at our Story Walk last week.

“As time goes on, things don’t get cheaper,” he said.

The hard part isn’t the demolition work itself. It’s the abatement of asbestos, a once commonly used construction material now known to be carcinogenic. And there’s a lot of it in the building: in the ceiling tiles, the floor tiles, the downspouts on the gutters and even in putty used in the window seals.

With those environmental concerns in mind, Leavell has been meeting with Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent to find a solution. They’ve even held a meeting with officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to identify possible grants available. While the property’s not a Superfund site, Leavell believes applying for federal grant assistance is worth a shot. They’ve completed the first phase of the grant process, he said.

The good news: the historic gym's not going anywhere.
The good news: the historic gym’s not going anywhere. Photo by Mark Morton.

“You never know until you try,” Leavell said.

The superintendent said he and the school board are open to discussions for local funding, to include the possibility of a new capital levy when the existing one expires. Notwithstanding community support for myriad possibilities there, Leavell added that nearby View Ridge and Armin Jahr elementary schools aren’t getting any younger. Perhaps a new school could be built there, too.

“Everybody recognizes the potential for this property to really be the eastside hub for great things,” he said. “But we’ve got to get through the first hurdle first.”

At last Tuesday's Story Walk. Photos by Margret Mountjoy.
At last Tuesday’s Story Walk. Photos by Margret Mountjoy.






What’s with the big wide turn, Bremerton ferry?


Many of you have pointed out the Bremerton ferry has been sailing slightly strangely lately. The vessels running to Seattle are slowing down more than their usual wake-restricted amounts through Rich Passage, and they’re hugging the coastline toward Illahee as they come and go from Sinclair Inlet.

So what gives?

My sources in the ferry system say that the Coast Guard has asked the ferries slow down and steer clear of the Port of Waterman dock along the shores of South Kitsap, until at least mid-October. The dock, once used as a port of call for the Mosquito Fleet of foot ferries, is being replaced, and the Coast Guard has issued a “no wake” zone around it for ferries, according to ferry spokeswoman Broch Bender.

She estimates the delay is adding between two and seven minutes or so to each sailing.

The pier has been a part of the Port of Waterman since 1923. Kitsap Sun Reporter Chris Henry wrote that it’s been “a gathering place for fishermen and crabbers,” for years, and is now a popular place to jig for squid.

Replacement for the aging dock is being funded by a state grant.

The treasures of gardening in the city


Almost two years ago, Karesha Peters traded her landlord’s grass for a vast city garden in Manette. She did all the heavy lifting herself, tearing out the lawn and replacing it with boxed beds now filled with butternut squash, chard, tomatoes and more.

“He let me rip up his entire front yard,” she joked of her landlord. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

The work, she says, was all worth it.


“I can’t imagine not growing my own food,” she said.

Peters maintains one of the prettiest gardens in the city, using the fruits of her labor to sustain her family all summer long, and selling the overage at the Bremerton Farmer’s Market.

The child development specialist, who is originally from South Africa, got into gardening eight years ago while living in Seattle. Since moving to Kitsap County, she has grown a garden on a family property in Seabeck until she started her own in Manette in early 2014.

She’s honed her craft, as evidenced by her taste for the boldest flavors around. I’d never had New Zealand Spinach before, but its sweet flavor makes me struggle to eat anything but in the Spinach department. Her carrots always go fast at the market; even if you miss them, don’t worry, because she overproduced green beans a bit this year following robust demand at last year’s market for them.

In the spirit of city gardening, she also planted a healthy amount of strawberries, which she allows the neighborhood kids to take off the vine for a quick snack.

Almost anytime of year, her garden is in production. She still loves that first sprout, whenever it may be. “That initial pop out of the ground gets me every time,” she said.

I’m hopeful she’ll be among the gardeners featured when the biennial Manette Edible Garden tour returns in 2016. But if you wish to try Peters’ farm fresh vegetables this year, better hurry: Only three Thursdays — Oct. 1, 8 and 15 — remain in the farmers market season.


10 Stories from my 10 Years at the Kitsap Sun

This job is never boring, let me tell you. LARRY STEAGALL / KITSAP SUN
This job is never boring, let me tell you. LARRY STEAGALL / KITSAP SUN

Today marks my 10 year anniversary at the Kitsap Sun. It’s a milestone that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve witnessed a dramatic transformation in journalism this past decade. Not all has been positive: the newsroom staff is half the size it was when I got here, reflecting an era of massive media consolidation. (That’s the nice way to put it). But I am also part of a new era, where the most creative and industrious minds will prevail in an age where anyone can publish a story.

I wanted to take you back through this decade, for a trip through the stories that fascinated me most. Many of these, you will notice, are from my first seven years on the job, when I was the Sun’s crime and justice reporter. But Bremerton, as home to the Sun and those I’ve covered, has always played an integral role.



1. After 62 years, death comes six hours apart

Amazing stories that are told on the obituary page nearly everyday. So I was especially curious when my editor, Kim Rubenstein, came to me with a rather unique one: A couple whose obituary ran together, in the same article.

I phoned the family, wondering if they would be interested in telling their parents’ story. It’s a phone call that never gets easier, having to call someone coming to terms with death, but it’s a call I feel is a newspaper’s obligation. In doing so, I’ve always tried to explain I’d like to give the community a chance to know the person they were in life, and if not, they were free to hang up on me. Everyone grieves differently but some people view the opportunity as cathartic.

In this case, the family was thrilled and invited me to their home in Kingston.

I learned of a very special love story — a couple through 62 years of marriage did everything together. Everything. Even getting the mail.

When they were buried, they were placed side by side, in the same casket.

It’s a story that not only touched me emotionally, but apparently others as well. Few stories I’ve ever done attracted broader attention. I got calls, emails and letters from all over the country, and was even interviewed by the Seattle P-I about doing it.


2. The CIA is doing what in Washington state?

Undercover police officers have their identities concealed for a reason: they are often conducting sensitive, and sometimes high risk, investigations that warrant it.

But what about when police chiefs, who use their government issued vehicles mainly for the purpose of driving to and from work, start using those undercover license plates?

That line that line of inquiry got me started down a path that revealed that in Kitsap County, and indeed all of Washington, there are a lot of confidential license plates driving around.

But nothing could prepare me, months after the initial story, for a call from Austin Jenkins, NPR reporter in Olympia, who’d been hearing testimony in the State Legislature about these license plates and changes to the program.

The story had revealed not only the confidential license plate program, but that the state’s Department of Licensing was also issuing confidential driver’s licenses.

I teamed up with Jenkins and we went to Olympia to interview the DOL. Amazingly, Gov. Jay Inslee and Gov. Chris Gregoire before him, didn’t even know about the program.

The biggest shocker of all came when a spokesman revealed that many of those confidential driver’s licenses were going to the CIA.

“Yes, that CIA, “the spokesman told us.

Later, the DOL would backpedal and say that they had no authority to release information about those “federal agencies” that have the licenses. But it was a fascinating discovery, an amazing story to work on and I am glad we were able to help bring the program to transparency.

Wikipedia photo.

3. The Pentagon’s calling, and they’re not happy

Ever wonder what it’s like to have The Pentagon angry with a story you did? Well, let me tell you.

You may recall the story of Naval Base Kitsap’s highest enlisted man being convicted in a sting not dissimilar from To Catch a Predator. He served his time, but I had wondered what kind of discipline he faced from the Navy, and that became the subject of a story months later.

Through a public records request, I got hold of a Navy document that reported he’d received an honorable discharge from the Navy — something a former Navy JAG told me was unheard of following a sex crime conviction. We ran the story.

The following Monday, The Pentagon called.

“Your story is wrong,” I was told repeatedly. “Are you going to correct it?”

“How is it wrong?” I asked.

I couldn’t get an answer because those records were private, I was told.

“So how can I correct it?” I wondered.

Round and round we went, for what felt like an eternity. Newsroom meetings were held. I freely admit it does not feel good when the Pentagon is not happy with you.

Eventually, others at The Pentagon and the local base released information that showed the man had received an “other than honorable” discharge. To this day, I am uncertain why I saw reports that contradicted each other.

Photo by Meegan M. Reid.
Photo by Meegan M. Reid.

4. Burglary victim becomes the suspect

Imagine coming home from a trip to find your home has been burglarized, and yet you’re the one getting hauled off to jail. That was the situation Luke Groves faced in 2009. A felon, he’d broken into a school in Shelton at 18, and now, at 37, police found his wife’s guns in their Hewitt Avenue home.

Prosecutors, who charged him with felon in possession of a firearm, had offered him no jail time in exchange for his guilty plea. But Groves took the case to trial, was convicted, and could’ve faced years in prison over it.

The case was one that former Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge and I had butted heads about. He felt we’d cast the prosecutor’s office as the bad guy in a case which they could not just “look the other way” on a weapons charge.

I followed the trial from start to finish, including Hauge himself handling the sentencing — something I can’t recall on an other occasion in my seven years covering the court system here. Hauge told the judge that Groves should ultimately get credit for time served for the crime, and Groves was released.


5. Squatter’s ‘meticulous’ highway home

I never met Chris Christensen. But I feel like in many ways I knew him following his 2008 death in the woods off Highway 3 in Poulsbo.

The story started with a scanner call for a DOA (dead on arrival) near the road in Olhava. I inquired with the police sergeant, who told me that the death was actually a pretty interesting story — certainly not something I expected to hear. I headed north, parked, and followed a little trail into the woods where I found “The Shiloh,” Christensen’s home among Western Red Cedars.

It was a “meticulously organized world,” I wrote. “A campsite with finely raked dirt, a sturdy green shed and a tent filled with bins of scrupulously folded clean laundry and cases of Steel Reserve beer.”

In the subsequent days, I learned all about his quiet life and penned this story. Most satisfying to me was that Christensen’s family had lost touch with him. Without the story, which thanks to the Internet made its way across the country, his family would’ve never found him. He got the dignified burial he deserved.

Nametags of those who went through Kitsap Recovery Center who later died or went to prison.
Nametags of those who went through Kitsap Recovery Center who later died or went to prison.

6. Heroin’s ugly grip on Kitsap, the nation

I’ve probably put more energy into covering the opiate epidemic than any other single topic in my decade at the Sun.

Heroin, in particular, was virtually nonexistent when I got here. But following the explosion of opiate medicines for pain, drug cartels seized their chance to feed a spreading addiction more cheaply.

The story has taken me all over Puget Sound. I interviewed a man at McNeil Island prison who had an 8-pill a day OxyContin habit and was bringing sheets full of “Oxy” from California to Kitsap; I visited a woman who was literally injecting opiates near the knuckles on her fingers in Suquamish. I’ve hugged mothers whose children were lost forever when they could not kick the habit.

It is a problem that remains unsolved.


7. Bad math on jail’s good time

I’ve received a lot of “jail mail” over the years, and while there’s usually an interesting story, it is, shall we say, not always one I would pursue in print.

When the letters started coming from Robert “Doug” Pierce in 2010, I was skeptical. He was convinced that Kitsap County had miscalculated his “good time” or time off for good behavior, and that he was serving too long a sentence from his current cell, at Coyote Ridge in Connell.

He was right.

Now I will tell you I am a journalist and not a mathematician. But the basic gist was that jail officials here were calculating his good time by simply dividing his time served by three, rather than tacking on an additional to his overall sentence. The result was he would serve 35 extra days.

Small potatoes? When you consider that at the the time it cost about $100 a day to house a prison inmate and that there were 548 inmates from Kitsap in prison, it’s actually quite an expense. After our story ran, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office corrected his sentence, along with everyone else’s, and fixed the policy.


8. ‘Where can we live?’

A criminal past can often haunts someone for the rest of his or her life. That was certainly true for Ed Gonda, a man who moved his family to Bainbridge Island and had heard it was a “laid back, forgiving kind of place.”

It turned out to be anything but for his family.

His crime was a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl. He admitted to it, did time for it, paid more than $10,000 in treatment for it — and had lived a clean life for 15 years, to include starting his own family.

But under Washington state law, he had to register as a sex offender, though he was not a pedophile. And somehow, after making friends at a local church and at his daughter’s school, word got out.

“The news traveled fast, and people who they thought they knew well acted swiftly,” I wrote. “His daughter could no longer play with friends down the street, he said. The church pews around them were vacant on Sundays. They more or less stopped going out anywhere on the island.”

“We’re treated like we’re diseased,” his wife told me.

It was the start of a three part series I knew would be controversial, but I felt was important. We want to protect all people in society, especially children. But is there ever a point when we’ve gone too far and it has infringed on the rights of those who have already done their time?

As part of my series on the 20th anniversary of the Community Protection Act, I also ventured to McNeil Island with Photographer Larry Steagall to see the state’s civil commitment center for sexual predators. Such a beautiful and pastoral setting for such a hideous complex. I am fairly certain Larry will never forgive me.

Yes, I have ridden in the back of a cop car. MEEGAN REID / KITSAP SUN
Yes, I have ridden in the back of a cop car. MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN

9. Bremerton’s plunging violent crime rate

Let’s face it: Bremerton has a gotten a bad rap over the years, following the demise in the 1980s of its retail downtown core. An increasing violent crime rate followed, and in many ways the reputation was earned.

When I was hired in 2005, the city had the highest per capita violent crime rate. During my interview, which was just weeks after two murders blocks from the Kitsap Sun’s office, I was asked how I would take on the story. Aggressively, I said.

I spent a lot of time in a patrol car — every shift including graveyard — and was introduced to Bremerton’s seedy underbelly before meeting any other part. It was a scary place: I saw lots of people high on meth, fights between police and drunkards, violent domestic abusers whose victims would try to shield their attackers from the cops. And I wrote extensively about it.

But in the years since, that violent crime rate plummeted, for reasons I documented in a story last November. The tide, in my eyes, is turning: the city is making a turn for the better.

If you live in Bremerton, you know that each time we do have a tragic, violent episode — even if far outside city limits — it reinforces the stereotype.

But followers of this blog know better. There are many positive signs of a community improving: Increasing ferry traffic. Volunteers embracing parks. Home improvements being made. Developments downtown.

We’ll see how long it takes for the rest of the world to notice.


10. Walking the story in Bremerton

Any reporter will tell you that we spend a lot more time with the story than what ends up in the paper. But what about those people who want to know more, who are curious for every last detail?


This January, I found myself thinking about those two big Sequoia trees on Veneta Avenue. In writing about longterm plans to save them but close the road their roots are destroying, I came to the realization that nothing — not a story in print, online or even a video — would compare to the experience of going there, and seeing the story for yourself. I invited experts who I’d interviewed for the story to come along.

And thus was born the thing I’m most proud of since taking over the Bremerton Beat: my monthly Story Walk. It’s been such a satisfying journey taking the story to the community, rather than the other way around. We’ve walked all over town and I have gotten to know so many great people in the city in doing so.

There’s momentum for many more to come, too.

Here’s to 10 years at the Sun, and a hope that the next 10 will be just as exhilarating.

Saturday is the new Sunday for Bremerton market


Michelle Baxter Patton’s decision to take her popular flea market at Uptown Mercantile & Marketplace on Pacific Avenue from Sundays to Saturdays boils down to two simple reasons.   

“God and the Seahawks,” she said. “I can’t compete with them. Nor would I want to.”

As fall approached, she felt Saturdays made more sense for “The Merc” at 816 Pacific Avenue, noting there’s more happening in Bremerton that day that might spur people to stop by the market.

There’s good reason: she’s got pre-loved vintage items for sale from as many as 40 vendors between the store and its flea market space, a gymnasium-sized showroom that once was a Pontiac dealership (see photo).


Among the goodies for sale right now: a 19th century bed frame that was reportedly where the sheriff who arrested Billy the Kid laid his head, she said. The price: $350.

The flea market’s new day kicks off this Saturday, Sept. 26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with loads of festivities all day long. A “vintage” car show will complement the market and Aaron McFadden and the Whiskey Jackets will also be playing. Two food carts — the Tiki Truck and Ray’s Dogs — will also be on hand.

It’s obvious Baxter Patton has a passion for her business. The former hair dresser, raised in the family who started and continues to run Bremerton Bottling Company, has entrepreneurship in her blood. She took over the Mercantile in February from Amber Breske. Since then, she’s loved just about every minute.

I think this Facebook post says it all.

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 6.54.46 PM

Hope to see you there Saturday.


This TV show needed a Navy ship to film on. They got one in Bremerton


While on a tour of businesses in eastern Washington in early August, Dino Davis spotted an opportunity. The Bremerton City Councilman was listening to an executive producer of the SyFy show “Z Nation,” who mentioned that the show was in need of a Navy ship for filming.

“I raised my hand and I said I know a guy,” Davis said.

Not even two months later and the show is here in Bremerton. On Wednesday, members of the production company The Asylum, which makes the show, will set up on the USS Turner Joy Museum; filming will commence Thursday, according to John Hanson, president of the Bremerton Historic Ships Association.

A sign went up at the Bremerton Marina to alert boaters and onlookers that “strange noises including gun fire, screaming and shouting,” will be part of production.

“In addition, the characters will be in full make-up and dressed as Zombies,” it reads, adding that a Zodiac boat will be in the water Friday as part of filming.

Davis said he’s pleased that the film crew has chosen Bremerton as its backdrop. He was on a tour of Eastern Washington businesses put on by the Puget Sound Regional Council and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, one that included stops in Spokane, where The Asylum is based and is taking advantage of the state’s film incentive.


STORY WALK: A campus at a crossroads in East Bremerton

Photo provided by Mark Morton.

What on Earth are we going to do with the former East High School campus?

Efforts to revive the school district property, which was also home to Bremerton Junior High School, have failed to this point.

But this place has a proud history. There is also another bright side: the Bremerton Teen Center and a low-cost dental clinic are now located at the campus. There’s still talk of demolishing the 125,000 square feet of mostly rotting classrooms. Plus, in a surprising move, the State Legislature this year kicked in $1 million in improvements for the school’s revered gym.

On Tuesday at 6 p.m., we will meet inside that gym (3102 Wheaton Way) to discuss the campus’ past, present and future and we’ll tour the area. Special guests for our latest Kitsap Sun Story Walk include:

To conclude the story walk, staff from both the Bremerton Boys & Girls Club and the Lindquist Dental Clinic will be on hand to give tours of both facilities.

Hope you can join us! You may RSVP here if you like. In the meantime, I ask: what would you like to see happen at the campus?

All photos of East High School provided by Mark Morton.

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Links to previous Kitsap Sun Story Walks:

Is the Cove turning a corner? 

Storywalking history, the Roxy, and all things hoppy

Walking the new Westpark

The new Lower Wheaton Way

Washington Avenue, past and present

The meandering Madrona Forest

Redwood Rendezvous in West Bremerton

Fourth Street’s Economic Divide

Another arcade is coming to downtown Bremerton


Developments in Bremerton seem to come in twos these days. Both Ace and Henery Hardware opened on opposite sides of town within a month of each other in 2014; two fledgling breweries — Wobbly Hops and LoveCraft — both decided to wade into the downtown market at nearly the same time. And, where there was one arcade that opened downtown in the spring, there will now be two.

Another Castle Arcade Edition is coming to 305 Pacific Avenue, former home of Alchemy Tattoo & Gallery.

The Edmonds-based adult “barcade,” which started as a video store in 2006, expanded to serve drinks to its gaming customers. They’ll soon open similar barcades in Bellingham and Bremerton, according to Jason Alloway Greye, the company’s district manager.  The expansion speaks to the state of the industry, he said.

“Demand is growing exponentially,” he said.

Greye, who happens to be from Bremerton, pitched the idea to the company to give downtown Bremerton a try. He sees a city that needs more for younger people — those over 21 — to do. Plus, he figured there’s plenty of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard workers nearby that would want to give the place a try as well.

Like Quarters Arcade around the corner, there will be a mix of old and new games. You’ll be able to play about a dozen pinball machines and around 30 arcade games.

“We focus on classic and retro but not exclusively,” Greye said.

Bremerton’s will be the only location with a full bar, he added.

They plan to open in November.

3 inspirational summer stories in Bremerton

You can feel fall coming. The weather’s cooling, the colors are starting to change and summer will soon end. But before it does, I wanted to reflect on three stories that just flat made me feel good this summer in Bremerton. They’re the kinds of stories that give you hope for humanity.

They found Tiffany 


I remember physically cringing when I saw the sight of the crumpled Motel 6 in West Bremerton, the victim of a massive gas explosion. We braced for the news of loss of life. But somehow, in what can only be described as a miracle, there was not. Larry Jennings, the Cascade Natural Gas technician who was closest to the explosion, continues to recover at Harborview Medical Center.

In the days after, the lone casualty appeared to be Tiffany, a black lab and chow mix that could be seen in surveillance video running from the Motel 6 as it exploded. But Tiffany’s owners, who’d recently moved here, never gave up hope. Dozens of people took on the task of posting flyers around town, creating a Facebook page, and combing the area looking for her. Nine days after the explosion, she was found drinking from the Port Washington Narrows.

What touched me the most about this story was after the fact, when complete strangers came together on a Sunday at Lions Park. Everyone got a chance to meet Tiffany (pictured). It was a wonderful story of community coming together, and then celebrating that cohesion.

The mailman of Manette 

I’d heard a lot about Norm the mailman before Monday, when I got to tag along with him as he delivered on his 11-mile route. But I was awestruck by just how beloved he is in the community he serves.

On each block, a few homes, if not more, were in on “Norm Day,” an impromptu celebration of his close to 30 years delivering mail in Manette. From simple cards to bottles of wine, he was showered in praise throughout the day. It was fascinating to watch a neighborhood band together for someone like that.

Only here’s the thing: after walking with him much of the way, I can say with confidence he completely deserved it. Norm is more than a mailman. He helps people on his route each and every day, as I wrote about him in Tuesday’s paper.

Putting joy in Turner Joy 

Photo by Mike Stitt.
Photos by Mike Stitt.

Since becoming the executive director of the USS Turner Joy Museum last year, Jack James has been a man on a mission. The retired Navy Seal, who’s led tasks like removing explosives from beaches in Iraq, is known for thinking outside the box.

Earlier in the year, he came up with a crazy idea to swim from the Turner Joy to the Boat Shed, crossing the Port Washington Narrows — one of the swiftest currents in Puget Sound. It sounded just crazy enough that I thought I’d like to join him. When else do you get a chance to swim from west to East Bremerton?

We all know Jack’s a hard worker. But what was so inspirational to me was his determination. Right before plunging into the water Sept. 12, I complained about the currents and the possibility of getting stung by a jelly fish.

“Look,” he told me. “All that other stuff, it’s just noise. See the Boat Shed over there? That’s the goal — do not think about anything else.

“Focus on the mission.”

And I did.

I’m excited for Bremerton to see what James comes up with next.

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