Walla Walla aviary renovation plan gains steam

The $345,000 proposal got a supportive endorsement from a city board Monday.

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WALLA WALLA -- A much less costly plan to renovate Pioneer Park Aviary gained considerable ground Monday, as the design was publicly reviewed by city officials for the first time at a City Council work session and a later meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

An article in the Sunday Union-Bulletin incorrectly reported the project would cost $850,000, far more than the actual cost of $354,000 needed to complete all phases of the project.

In a show of support, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board voted unanimously in favor of informing City Council its members were in full support of the project.

The vote seemed almost a complete turnaround from roughly one year earlier, when the board placed the aviary on the bottom of the Parks and Recreation priority list, a decision Parks and Recreation staff later used in making their decision to cut all funding for the aviary.

The public outcry that followed and the barrage of fundraising had a number of board members commenting they were now in favor of upping the aviary's status.

"I said that I had been one of the advocates for putting it at number six, but because of the incredible response the public had ... I am going to have to change my mind," board member Lenore Barkan said.

If approved, the first phase of the aviary renovation would cost $240,000, and would include an almost complete rebuild of the entire main netting enclosure.

The second phase would involve renovating the rearing pen and greenhouse for $114,000, and would include adding a public viewing area in the rearing pen.

"We are not taking advantage of what people really want to see. We got all these little chicks and little ducklings running around," Dumont said.

In the first phase, the entire netting structure would be replaced, the surrounding cyclone fence would be increased to 10 feet and 25 steel perimeter beams would be added as the main structural support to hang numerous sections of interconnected triangular nets.

"So if you had a problem with the net you would only have to replace a section of the net rather than the whole thing," Dumont said.

Dumont said the problem with the current structure is that the break-away netting design, which was supposed to allow the net to release from the main cables before reaching overload capacity, never worked properly.

He added the retractable cables that were supposed to lower and raise the net long ago stopped working, and that a number of the current structural wooden beams are in need of replacement.

"These are not treated timbers; these are buried in the dirt, and next to a stream. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure they will rot out," Dumont said.

Currently, the city has $144,000 in insurance and restricted aviary funds, as well as $16,000 in FEMA money that could be used for the renovation project.

The plan is to use the FEMA money to buy a new net, then concentrate on raising the remainder through fundraising.

"It is a lot easier to raise capital funds than maintenance funds," Dumont reminded the board.

To date, the aviary is still short $30,000 of the $110,000 needed to keep it operating through 2012.

Dumont noted it was important to secure full funding through the current 2011-2012 biennial budget before starting a renovation project.

The City Council was reported to have been favorable about the project at their Monday work session; Council members would make the final decision on the proposal.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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