City Council backtracks on aviary; grants six-month delay for closure

Shane Laib talks to citizens who rallied to save the Pioneer Park Aviary outside City Hall prior to Wednesday’s council meeting.

Shane Laib talks to citizens who rallied to save the Pioneer Park Aviary outside City Hall prior to Wednesday’s council meeting. Photo by Greg Lehman.

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WALLA WALLA — Plans to close Pioneer Park Aviary are on hold for the next six months.

The Walla Walla City Council, which voted two weeks ago to close the facility due to funding woes, voted 6-0 on Wednesday to give Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary time to work out a lease to take over the facility and raise half the capital to repair it. Mayor Jerry Cummins was absent.

“This is probably the best of all possible outcomes,” said Council member Barbara Clark, noting that in the last two weeks since voting for closure she has had numerous letters and comments from both aviary supporters and closure supporters.

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Shane Laib goes over the new plan to keep the aviary open during the Walla Walla City Council meeting Wednesday.

“It seems to me this proposal serves the needs of both those groups ... Now you have to go out and raise the money.”

Supporters rallied outside City Hall before the Council met and packed the meeting room to standing-room-only capacity during a hearing on the aviary group’s proposal to keep it open.

Under the new plan, the city will continue to fund the aviary for the next six to 10 months while Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary begins raising money to rebuild it and work out a lease agreement that would begin in 2015.

Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary will try to raise $185,000 in 180 days to rebuild the facility, which was severely damaged in storms of 2008.

“For three years we have raised operation dollars. We stayed completely away from the capital,” Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary Chair Shane Laib, a former City Council member, said before the aviary vote.

“We are asking for six months to devote ourselves exclusively to the capital, and then turn ourselves back to the operational.”

The money raised will be combined with $190,000 that the city has set aside for repairing the facility. The money comes from insurance payments for storm damages.

The nonprofit wants to combine its capital funds with the city’s $190,000 to fund a $375,000 makeover of the larger enclosure. The smaller enclosure would be removed.

Before the Feb. 12 closure vote, city officials had reported it would be more cost effective to rebuild the smaller enclosure and remove the large facility. Doing so would save roughly $100,000 but mean more birds would be permanently removed from the facility.

Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary opposes the smaller enclosure plan.

During the public comment period, seven of about 50 supporters at the meeting spoke.

As expected, they commented on the need for free family entertainment and the value of having a place to walk and see the birds.

One comment came from a grandmother from Touchet, who noted that her out-of-town family encouraged her to take on City Hall.

“Believe me, if they were here they would be speaking,” said Carolyn Seachris, noting that the aviary was a favorite of her grandchildren. “They have been emailing me and talking to me and telling me, ‘Mom, you can’t let that aviary go out of existence.’ ”

She then said that most families spend beyond their budget at one point or another for something important.

“Sometimes, I know that you, in your private lives, you didn’t have the money to do something. But you knew that something had to be done. So you did it anyway,” Seachris said.

If all goes as planned, aviary repair work will begin next year.

Laib said the Friends group would rely on current fundraising programs, including individual donations, Adopt-A-Bird contributions and corporate sponsorships, to begin raising capital funds. The group also will use direct mailers to ask for cash pledges to rebuild the facility.

Laib noted that until the aviary no longer faces closure, the nonprofit will only seek pledges that will only be redeemed once the long-term future of the aviary is secured.

The group plans to kick off its capital campaign on Saturday.


This story was updated on Mar. 1, 2014, to correct a misquote by a report on a statement by Council member Barbara Clark.

Interactives

Pioneer Park Aviary funding battle

The Pioneer Park Aviary has struggled to find enough funds to stay open for several years.

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