PORT TOWNSEND — In a normal year, Port Townsend’s Quimper Grange hosts an estimated 1,000 people combined for events such as dances, concerts, classes, musical jam sessions, meetings, weddings and birthday parties.
This year, the historic 30-foot by 50-foot hall capable of holding 150 people has been empty since March 14, days before Gov. Jay Inslee issued his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“We didn’t feel it was prudent to stay open because Port Townsend has such a vulnerable population,” said Sheila Long, president of the grange.
“Especially as the weather has been changing, we’ve had several people asking to rent the space. We’ve had groups that want to hold their monthly meetings at the grange.”
Now, thanks to the efforts of the grange’s safety committee chair, Phil Burwell, a retired medical device engineer, the nonprofit plans to install a three-part ventilation system using MERV-13 air filters in the attic above the hall as well as automatic fans in each bathroom.
Once installed by a host of volunteers, the grange would be allowed to open at 30 percent capacity, or 45 people, under state guidelines updated Oct. 6. Those rules specifically require ventilation systems that use those hospital-grade air filters.
“We’re so lucky that we have an engineer in our group,” Long said. “He was able to find very quiet fans because, with the kinds of acoustic musical events we do, we don’t want any distracting noise.”
The ventilation system is expected to cost about $5,000, an amount the grange has applied for through a grant from the Jefferson Community Foundation.
The foundation reopened its COVID Response & Recovery Fund earlier this month after it received a $100,000 donation.
With property taxes and utilities, the grange costs about $40 a day to maintain, even while it’s been empty for the past seven months, Long said.
Community donors have helped cover those expenses, she said, but without the grant for the ventilation system, the grange likely would have to tap into its savings.
“We had a lot of very successful concerts and events last year, and we’ve been able to save up some money, but this ventilation system would take up a lot of those savings,” she said. “That’s why we’re seeking help through this grant.”
The nonprofit organization is currently celebrating its 100th year. Long said she hopes the hall will be able to reopen before the year is out.
Initially, the grange would refrain from concerts and any dancing that requires touch, she said.
Instead, the focus would be on hosting meetings, classes and maybe even well-spaced line dancing with a limited number of participants.
“We’ve been fixing it up, repairing holes and painting the walls, but no one is getting to see it,” Long said. “We put up picture molding because we were hoping to do some art shows and had been planning to do a makers fair.”
In time, as the grange is allowed to safely host more activities, such as song circles and contra dances, Long said having a ventilation system will give everyone a greater peace of mind.
“At some point, we figure we will be able to have some dancing again,” she said, “and we want that to be as safe as possible.”
Donations for the grange’s operating costs, above and beyond the cost of installing the ventilation system, are welcome, Long said. Checks can be mailed to Quimper Grange, 1219 Corona St., Port Townsend, WA 98368.
Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.