Center at the Park flies to rescue of Pioneer Park Aviary

The board has agreed to donate $55,000 to keep the facility open for one year.

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WALLA WALLA - The Pioneer Park Aviary has been spared the budgetary chopping block for another year.

On Friday, officials with The Center at the Park announced they would provide the Parks and Recreation Department with a $55,000 monetary gift to keep the free bird zoo that is home to some 200 feathered friends open for another year.

"It means a lot to us only from the standpoint that the seniors who are here now were the juniors when the aviary started," Center at the Park President Herschel Fullerton said. He noted that many of the seniors at the center recalled helping to build the aviary almost three decades ago.

The Center at the Park - which administers programs that include daily lunches for seniors, the Meals on Wheels program, adult daycare, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program and houses the Early Learning Center - operates on a $1.5 million annual budget, which includes mandatory reserve funds. The money for the aviary will come from those reserve funds, Fullerton said.

While the aviary is technically not a senior program, Fullerton noted that over the years the city has been "generous" to the center in that it leases the facility to the center at $1 per year, and in addition Parks and Recreation takes care of all the grounds maintenance.

"I just knew in my heart that eventually somebody would step forward," Parks and Recreation Director Jim Dumont said.

But the support is for only one year, and unless a community organization steps forward to raise yearly funds, the aviary could face closure again in 2012.

Still, the funding for a year was enough for Dumont to commit to repairing the aviary in 2011 for specific work that is covered by insurance.

"Now that we have community interest and support, and we know it's there and people are willing to be there and work on it, we will do those things," Dumont said, noting there are about $25,000 in FEMA funds available to repair snow damage that occurred in December 2009.

There are other designated insurance repair funds that might also be used. But Dumont added those dedicated funds could not be used to shore up the deterioration that has occurred over decades.

City Manager Nabiel Shawa might not be so ready to use the FEMA repair funds until the long-term funding of the aviary is more clearly defined.

"The city looks forward to working with them (Senior Center Board members) and community at-large to find a way to provide stable future funding for the aviary. Once this is accomplished it makes good fiscal sense to embark upon the necessary upgrades to the aviary enclosures with FEMA funding," he wrote.

He acknowledged the Senior Center Board for its save of the aviary before the budget was to be finalized in the next few weeks.

"... we are delighted that the Senior Center Board has stepped forward with the leadership and financial commitment to keep the aviary open," he wrote.

Center staff might recoup some of the money through fundraising efforts, but Fullerton added there are no strings attached and the money is a gift outright.

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