Port Townsend’s Boiler Room seeks ideas, funding

Refuge for teens on hiatus at present

PORT TOWNSEND — The Boiler Room is looking for new ideas and an influx of cash to help save the youth-oriented coffeehouse and has asked the community for proposals by Sept. 19.

The nonprofit established in 1993 put its operation on hold last month amid funding issues, a change in social culture and staffing shortages. It remains closed for business.

The Boiler Room board of directors — President David Faber, Natalie Lagergren, Nate Malmgren, Marla Overman, Thomas Overman and Stephen Boruch — met last Thursday and developed a “structured plan”— an opportunity for those who might be interested in keeping the Boiler Room open at 711 Water St.

The group is soliciting proposals that will bring new directors; $150,000 in readily-available funding to deal with existing and accruing debt and obligations; and a fundraising plan to pay the mortgage.

Currently, the land and building has a mortgage of roughly $274,000. Although a property appraiser has not been hired, an estimated value of the site is approximately $595,000.

In addition, the board is seeking a “realistic and actionable youth-oriented and youth-driven plan” to continue operations in its current location while addressing the need for an off-site homeless day shelter program, either through the Boiler Room or through a partner organization.

“I’m sad about the circumstances,” Faber said.”I was a Boiler Room kid, went there 20 years ago. It has saved lives, and impacted and improved lives many times over. The idea of the Boiler Room no longer existing is devastating to me.

“I don’t know how to save it as it is,” he continued. “We need a concerted effort. We are stretched to the breaking point in terms of ability and time.

“We’re asking people who care to step up and prove they do in order to survive this. We have growing debts and obligations. Everything is coming due quickly now.”

The board will conduct an informational meeting at the Boiler Room from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Request for proposal forms will be available at the meeting or from Executive Director Amy Howard at [email protected]

If no viable proposals are submitted, the board will consider selling the building and liquidating assets.

The Boiler Room also is accepting donations to help pay existing debts and obligations. Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 1659, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

For those hoping for a piece of history, the organization will be making one last order of iconic T-shirts, hoodies and other memorabilia featuring its logo and imagery.

The nonprofit began losing its youth-oriented customer base because of increased use by the homeless population due to the lack of a day shelter in the city, Howard has said, leading to a decline in teens wanting to work and gather there.

It also changed the concept of a gathering place for social and educational programs to a place for two disparate populations to coexist, she said.

Board members said that the coffee house model is no longer appropriate for the current generation of youth it serves.

Faber said whatever the new group creates needs “to not be the current model.”

“For a Boiler Room success in the future, who over takes over, they need to engage with youth and ask them what they want,” Faber said.

“Don’t give them a model from over 20 years ago. It’s what benefits the next generation. The ideas floating to the surface are a prescribed structure and not necessarily what the kids want.”

Faber feels strongly a solution to creating a day space for the homeless population must be part of the plan.

“We can’t separate out one part of the community in this discussion,” Faber emphasized. “This is the messy reality in which we live. One of the reasons is that the Boiler Room has been used as a de facto day shelter.

“These are not discreet things; they don’t exist in a vacuum. We can’t do this without addressing these two things mutually. The day shelter has to be addressed or the Boiler Room can’t continue operating.”

Faber said that at the Boiler Room’s community input meeting two weeks ago, the board heard from an 18-year old runaway who last year was helped by the nonprofit, giving her a place to be and getting her back to her home.

“The need is there,” he said. “It’s still a relevant place. It’s still needed.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].

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