Fort Worden squares up to begin arts complex

Charlie Bermant
Posted 4/4/17

The Fort Worden Public Development Authority (FWPDA) is moving ahead with plans for the proposed Makers Square, an area of Fort Worden State Park that would be dedicated to arts, cultural and …

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Fort Worden squares up to begin arts complex


The Fort Worden Public Development Authority (FWPDA) is moving ahead with plans for the proposed Makers Square, an area of Fort Worden State Park that would be dedicated to arts, cultural and educational programming.

Signal Architecture and Research, which has developed the plan for the $13 million project, presented a two-hour update on March 29 to an audience that included the FWPDA board, the Fort Worden Coordinating Committee, the Friends of Fort Worden and other interested parties.

Under the plan, the buildings, which are now underutilized, would be turned into a cluster dedicated to visual, performance, industrial and culinary arts programs. The designs recognize the rustic past while also accommodating any new art form that may become popular in the years to come.

“This is like being caught between the past and the future,” said Lynn Kessler, a member of the Fort Worden Coordinating Committee and a former state legislator. Washington State Parks Commissioner Rodger Schmitt added, “This is really exciting, how we could develop this in a way that is flexible and sustainable. It’s great that the consultants recognized input from the community, rather than coming in with a preconceived idea.”

Some of the ideas originated from a public meeting that took place July 18, 2016.

Fundraising for the project began in 2016, with $6 million already committed. As much as $1.5 million could come from historic tax credits.

The FWPDA hopes to complete the fundraising in time to begin construction in spring 2018. Construction is estimated to take 12-14 months, according to architect Mark Johnson.

A caveat for all such historical renovation projects is that once a project begins, other costly required upgrades could be discovered.

The first phase of Makers Square includes the renovation of three buildings roughly adjacent to one another.

Building 305, which now serves as the Washington State Parks maintenance shed, is to become the Arts and Education Center. The 18,620-square-foot building is to be reconfigured as flexible classrooms, galleries, studios and workspaces, all supporting a variety of programming.

The uses for buildings 308 (2,505 square feet) and 324 (3,045 square feet) are as yet undetermined and designated to house “future programs.” Utility access is to be on the surface rather than installed behind drywall, another nod to flexibility.

Building 305, built in 1905 as the Quartermaster Storehouse, marks Makers Square’s eastern border. The other buildings to be renovated, also constructed in the early 1900s, are north and west. They would create a plaza that is to include the Port Townsend School for the Arts (now in operation), a wood shop, a culinary school and a performance hall.

Johnson said the buildings, once renovated, could last another 100 years.

“These are fantastic buildings,” he said. “They are built from Douglas fir, and are warm, dry and welcoming. If we wanted to rebuild them from scratch, we would not be able to get a similar quality of materials.”

The project’s progress depends on the amount of funds raised. Should funds fall short of goals, Building 305 is to be completed first, with renovation of the others postponed until the money is raised, Johnson said.

In the future, the new solar panels could generate enough power to run a fleet of electronic vehicles to replace the gas-powered ones that are now in use, according to FWPDA Executive Director Dave Robison.

Fort Worden State Park Manager Brian Hageman said the buildings have been underutilized for years. One was referred to as “the porcelain palace” because it was filled with sinks, toilets and urinals.

“This project will give a part of the park that is almost dead some vibrance,” Hageman said. “It will be really cool to see all the energy that it brings.”