By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“Whatever we do with the lifelong learning center, we need to keep traditional park values in mind,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Roger Schmidt at a retreat of the Ford Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority, or PDA.
“The park must continue to offer all the things that people expect.”
The PDA met all day Monday at Fort Worden to discuss its management of the lifelong learning center as a precursor to developing a business plan that will determine how the partnership will work.
The PDA must submit a business plan for managing the learning center to the state parks agency no later than Sept. 1.
The retreat is the latest in a series of meetings about the disposition of the non-recreational portions of the park, which included two public meetings with the PDA and one with the state Parks and Recreation Commission.
A majority of the public at the meetings spoke out against the transfer of ownership to the PDA.
On March 28, the commission stated that Fort Worden would always be a state park and there would be no transfer of ownership, but state agency would do anything possible to help the PDA develop a business plan.
On Monday, PDA board members Cindy Finnie and Norm Tonina, along with PDA executive director Dave Robison and staff member Rick Sepler, told the rest of the board about a meeting they attended last week on Camano Island with state parks staff and a parks consultant.
The message they brought back is that state parks must redefine themselves as profit centers rather than expecting that activities will be subsidized — especially in light of the announcement that all state funding for parks will end in July 2013.
“Parks have never looked at themselves as revenue generators,” Finnie said.
“They have never run themselves as a business, and even thinking that they need to break even is a shift for them.”
The board discussed housing and programs as revenue generators.
Fort Worden has a range of available housing — from the moderately luxurious former officers' quarters to bare-bones former barracks — and this diversity can attract attendees, although not without compelling programs, board members said.
“The various accommodations will be a draw, but it's a chicken-egg situation,” Tonina said.
“What comes first: the programs or the accommodations?”
The board also discussed offering packages in which someone is drawn to Fort Worden for a particular event but access to other facilities like the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, which occupies space in the park, is included in the price.
Distance learning is the one component that should be emphasized, according to PDA board member and newspaper publisher Scott Wilson.
“We need to prioritize distance learning because it has the most potential to bring people to the fort for several days, where they can do other things,” said Wilson, who runs the weekly Port Townsend/Jefferson County Leader.
“We can offer a diverse selection of programs for people who come here a few weeks a year to complete their degrees.”
The transfer of ownership is now off the table, but some board members feel the idea was ahead of its time.
“The public wasn't brought up to speed,” Sepler said.
“Everything that was talked about has been done elsewhere, but the public wasn't aware of the change of direction for the parks and weren't on board with the idea.
“The crisis is real.”
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.