Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Aviary Saved: Concerned Citizens Plan for Future

Thanks to the concentrated efforts of a group of citizen volunteers, the Pioneer Park Aviary will be preserved for the time being––and, if fundraising goes according to plan, for years into the future.

Walla Walla’s mayor, Jim Barrow, listens to budgetary concerns at a recent City Council meeting. Photo by Halley McCormick.

At the final public budget hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 5, Walla Walla’s city council tentatively approved a revenue-neutral budget item presented by the Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary, intended to prevent the closure of the aviary in the beginning of next year. The council officially adopted the proposed 2013-2014 budget with a vote of 6-1.

The Pioneer Park Aviary, in operation since 1983, recently faced the possibility of closure in light of the city’s projected revenue shortfall for the coming year. Originally founded by the Walla Walla Valley Lioness Club, the aviary was formerly privately funded but in recent years has depended on money from the city’s general fund to stay afloat.

“Next year will be 30 years for that facility,” said Craig Keester, a representative from Friends of the Aviary. “I’d like to celebrate that by building it up rather than tearing it down.”

In a similar situation two years ago, the aviary faced closure and was preserved only through the efforts of volunteers. These efforts managed to save the aviary in the short term but failed to provide a sustainable plan for the future.

“The people were very sincere and put their hearts and souls into it,” said Keester about the previous fundraising efforts. “We didn’t really foresee that we were going to have to take over and further this. It’s become painfully obvious that the [financial] chasm was much greater than we thought.”

Representatives from the Friends of the Aviary’s steering group presented their plan before the council, estimating that a total of $176,000 would be raised over the next year. The group also requested that money be released from the city’s round-up and FEMA funds to help keep the aviary open.

Birds in the Pioneer Park Aviary benefit from added feeding structures. Photo by Marie von Hafften.

The aviary’s operating costs are $55,000 per year, with additional funds needed to renovate old structures to keep birds safe from predators.

The group said they planned to solicit donations from local businesses and individuals in exchange for recognition on a poster, and to implement “friendship plans” and an adopt-a-bird program that would offer donors monthly rewards in exchange for support.

“Through ideas and innovations and a qualified group of volunteers we hope to be able to turn the aviary into a sustainable operation the community can be proud of,” said Stephanie Sellinger, another representative of the Friends of the Aviary.

The group plans to file for status as a nonprofit early next year in order to further the goal of making the aviary financially independent from the city.

Several recent Walla Walla City Council meetings have included discussions about the city’s biennial budget. Photo by Halley McCormick.

Councilmembers shared their own concerns about the plan, noting the need for benchmarks in order to ensure that any investments the city makes won’t result in a loss of money.

“It would be irresponsible of us to put a quarter of a million dollars into a project before we know it’s financially viable,” said councilmember Barbara Clark.

Clark and other councilmembers also expressed concern about burnout among volunteers, and expressed their desire to work with the Friends of the Aviary to create a timeline for the fundraising project.

“I’m confident we can do it,” said Director of Parks and Recreation Jim Dumont. “It is doable. It won’t happen without significant work on our part and their part.”

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