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Whidbey students complete Admiralty Head Lighthouse sections

“That’s not just a piece of steel. That’s a sculpture,” Archie Nichols of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland told Oak Harbor High School students Thursday as he came to pick up the completed midsection of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse’s lantern house.

Metal shop students from the three Whidbey Island high schools have, since 2010, been pouring hours into recreating the original lantern house.

Oak Harbor High School students alone spent more than 850 hours on the project, said metal fabrication teacher Jerry Mumper.

Oak Harbor was responsible for recreating the midsection of the lantern house, known as window mullions, which included twisting thick steel to fit over the curved windows.

“It took a lot of welding, grinding and trying to make things nice and even,” said junior Matthew Barrailler, who was lead on the project last year and spent numerous hours on it again this year.

The hardest part was that the curved steel cross pieces also had to be twisted at a 15 degree angle to fit over the curved windows. In order to twist the thick metal, the students got creative and developed their own 500-pound machine.

“A lot of it was trial and error,” Barrailler said.

The group had to restart some of the parts when pieces didn’t match, said junior Brandon Abraham and senior Christopher Anderson.

“It’s cool that I got to work on it,” Abraham said.

“It’s cool to work on something that will be there for a long time and last,” Barrailler said.

“It’s a relief to be done,” Anderson said, adding that he’d like to help finish the lantern house, which will be done at South Whidbey High School, but they ran out of time because the deadline was set before the project began.

“We just didn’t have enough people coming in to work on it,” Barrailler said.

The lead student this year was Johnny McLaughlin.

“He was real instrumental in helping get this done today,” Mumper said, adding that McLaughlin is one of the top five best students he’s had.

Students who worked on the project last year include Matthew Barrailler, Jake Hardenbergh, Greg Ennis, Cory Culver and Jake Spurgeon.

The parts of the lantern house constructed at Oak Harbor and Coupeville high schools were transported to South Whidbey High School, where the lantern house will be assembled. South Whidbey was chosen for the final steps because the school has the largest facilities.

The goal is to have the parts assembled by the end of the school year so the lantern house can be installed by summer.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse, located at Fort Casey, was built in 1861 and decommissioned in 1922.

The original lantern house was removed from the lighthouse in 1927 and moved to the Dungeness Spit Lighthouse on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was replaced with a thin, plexiglass version not intended to look like the original, with poor ventilation that causes discomfort for summer tourists.

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders has supported the project since the beginning by supplying steel and instruction to the students. They also modernized the original plans for the lantern house and allowed students to borrow some of their tools.

The Career Technical Program at the high school provided funding and materials.

After the section of the lantern house was loaded onto a truck next to the conical top created by Coupeville High School students, Nichols told the students that they should be proud of themselves for their good work.

“I’d take any one of you in a day as a shipbuilder,” Nichols said.


Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Rebecca Olson at or 360-675-6611.

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