Managing Fort Worden campus is costly, complex | Guest Viewpoint

David King
Posted 6/7/23

The May 24 Leader article on the Fort Worden Public Development Authority’s need to expand our line of credit to pay overdue bills, did not report that the PDA Board’s authorization was …

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Managing Fort Worden campus is costly, complex | Guest Viewpoint


The May 24 Leader article on the Fort Worden Public Development Authority’s need to expand our line of credit to pay overdue bills, did not report that the PDA Board’s authorization was contingent on a requirement to repay the additional amount borrowed as soon as funds became available.

By the time of the article’s publication the PDA had received the delayed grants and reimbursements that were causing the cash shortfall, and we had already reduced our accounts payable balance from the $234,357 to $117,997.

Undisputed payables are now current and we’ve repaid the line to its original level.

The Fort Worden PDA was created by the city of Port Townsend to manage the “campus” area of Fort Worden State Park under the terms of a master lease with the Washington State Parks Commission. The campus is home to the unique array of organizations that fulfill State Parks’ commitment to creating a Lifelong Learning Center at Fort Worden. In the last year and a half the PDA has stabilized finances with successful state audits, and executed long-term leases and operating agreements so that Centrum, Fort Worden Hospitality and our other partners are able to concentrate on their missions.

But any version of the Fort Worden campus is costly and complex to manage. There are many resident stakeholders. Water, electrical and other services are not metered the way they are used. There are large common outside areas to maintain. Equipment and system failures are common, time consuming, and expensive. The PDA is responsible for making sure it all works together; allocating the day-to-day costs that must be shared, funding and executing the capital repairs and improvements that are everywhere urgently required, and keeping the campus infrastructure running until those can be made.

After decades of deferred maintenance, there are more than $200 million of repairs and restorations required for the 72 buildings and the infrastructure at Fort Worden. Restoration of Building 203 alone would cost more than $20 million. The PDA’s financial challenges are not primarily management issues.

As an example of what it takes to just keep the place running, we are spending $157.6K of the $750K Preservation Funds we secured from the legislature to repair the failing 70-ton chiller/boiler at the Fort Worden Commons. But this is just a patch — it will buy us a few years. Replacement of the system will cost around $2 million. And this is for one of the newest buildings at the fort. The Commons was built in 2003. Most of the rest are a hundred years older.

There is enthusiasm and support for our cost-sharing approach at Fort Worden. The outdated state of the campus’ infrastructure makes it difficult to reach consensus on how day-to-day costs should be shared. Over time, we will improve metering and have more services invoiced directly to the users, steadily reducing the amount we argue about.

But, except for State Parks, none of the organizations on campus has the capacity to spend $160K on a chiller.

A sustainable future will require innovative local solutions and commitment by the state. That future, some common area services, and most large capital repairs will likely always have to be administered by the PDA. Receipt of the delayed funds will see us through the end of 2023, but not far beyond.

The best projects are the ones that make the fort better. At our May 23 board meeting we authorized $360K of the $750K Preservation Funds to replace network hardware and improve internet connectivity campus-wide, benefiting everyone who needs to get online at Fort Worden. Which is everyone.

Another example of shared improvement would be the geothermal heating system we are investigating.

“Geothermal” is just a fancy name for a ground-based heat pump system. It would provide hot water to heat many of the buildings on campus — avoiding the necessity of replacing each building’s antiquated system, preserving the historic nature of those buildings, and dramatically reducing the overall costs for heating.

The Legislature has authorized
$1 million to investigate this transformational system’s feasibility.

Maintaining the campus and working with state and local institutions to realize the vision of lifelong learning will continue to define the PDA’s work at Fort Worden.

(David King is board chair of the Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority Board of Directors.)