By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“The meeting is as much to elicit ideas as to address public concerns,” said Gary Cummins, who also is a retired federal parks employee.
The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in Fort Worden Commons. A Discover Pass will not be required for entry.
The proposal to turn over ownership and control of some or all of the park to the PDA was discussed at a state Parks and Recreation Commission meeting last week, but action was tabled until the commission's next meeting, which will be at Fort Worden on March 28 and 29.
Two-day commission meetings consist of a work session and a second meeting where issues are decided, said Virginia Painter, State Parks spokeswoman.
Specifics about the agendas will be made available closer to the meeting date, she said.
Cummins said Thursday's meeting will begin with a presentation discussing the various alternatives and move into a group discussion of ideas and possibilities.
Former Fort Worden park manager Kate Burke will give a presentation about the lifelong learning center process as part of the program.
Burke's last day as manager of Fort Worden was Friday.
Acting PDA Director Dave Robison said the group is negotiating with Burke to develop a business plan for the PDA's ownership of Fort Worden — a necessary component for the state's consideration of the plan — but that the terms have not been finalized.
The PDA has been developing the idea of establishing a lifelong learning center at the park for eight years, looking to retrofit the existing buildings for educational purposes.
The proposal received more attention in January after Burke was displaced from the position she has held since 2002 by Allison Alderman, a parks employee who had more seniority than Burke and whose position had been eliminated.
Burke was already then involved in developing a business plan
“All this would have happened now, regardless of Kate getting bumped,” said PDA Vice Chairman Scott Wilson, publisher of The Port Townsend Leader weekly newspaper.
“We thought that Kate would be the best person to help develop a business plan,” he said.
“What made us move faster was the idea that Kate might leave town.”
Cummins said there have been unsubstantiated rumors about foreign investors building condos in the park, which he said would not happen, since the PDA would be required to continue to run the area as a park open to the public.
Guidelines for park
“Whoever takes over the park will need to follow guidelines,” he said.
“This will be in the agreement — if the PDA or any other entity tried to bulldoze any buildings, the park ownership will revert to the State Parks.”
The buildings on the 434-acre park have a historical designation with strict renovation guidelines, though a retrofit to bring areas into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act could be accomplished within these rules, Cummins said.
This increased accessibility will make the park more attractive to visitors, he said.
The 32 State Parks employees at Fort Worden also are concerned about the change, Cummins said.
“These people work hard and do a good job,” Cummins said.
“There is a lot of uncertainty, but one idea would be that if the park is run by the PDA, it may subcontract with the State Parks to operate the campground and provide security,” he said.
“The parks department is faced with a lot of terrible decisions, and the most emotional decisions have to do with people's lives and futures.”
Painter said the PDA has stated its intent to hire park staff from those already working at the facility.
One personnel decision could involve Alderman.
Alderman said the possibility of the PDA taking over the park was discussed when she decided to take the job.
“There is a chance that the PDA will take over the park and choose another director, in which case I would be in the same position I was when my job was eliminated [in December],” she said.
Alderman is scheduled to meet with park staff today before traveling to Olympia for a meeting Thursday.
She will begin full time at Fort Worden on Friday, she said.
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.