In a normal year, this would have been the week when The Historic Trust got ready to host a crowded, joyful fireworks spectacular on the Fort Vancouver campus.
But the nonprofit agency entrusted with managing Vancouver’s historic properties and providing educational programming about them — and launching those annual fireworks — recently laid off four staff members involved in community outreach, events management and educational programming, according to CEO David Pearson.
No programming is being offered by The Historic Trust right now, Pearson said. The public can still stroll the grounds of Providence Academy, Officers Row, the former military base and the outside of the historic fort, but facilities remain closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, he said. Both the annual fireworks show and The Historic Trust’s biggest educational endeavor, an August week of historical lectures, tours and activities called Summer Chautauqua, were canceled weeks ago.
Losing four staff members brings the total staff at the trust from 27 down to 23, Pearson said. The agency’s operating budget is approximately $4.5 million, he said, and “a lot of that is taking care of buildings.
“Like every nonprofit, the trust is now in uncharted waters,” Pearson said. “We are being very prudent and careful, and part of that is our expenses and staffing. The board and myself took a careful look at where we needed to go for the next six months and evaluate from there how things are looking. With that in mind, we identified four staff positions we would lay off.”
The agency will continue to prioritize maintenance of properties it owns or manages for the city of Vancouver or the National Park Service, including the historic Providence Academy building, the houses and arboretum on Officers Row, the West Barracks and Red Cross Building, O.O. Howard House and Pearson Field Education Center.
“We will still have a strong education department,” Pearson said. “We’re waiting for Phase 3 (of reopening after coronavirus lockdown) to reopen Pearson Field Education Center and Marshall House as well.”
When live, in-person events do return, Pearson said, they’ll be very different than before.
“Our programs need to be safe and people need to be able to trust them,” he said. “They’ll have to be a smaller size and socially distanced.”
Meanwhile, Pearson said, “The properties are still here, and there is still a sense of place when you come visit Officers Row or visit the Parade Grounds.”
In fact, the fort and its historic campus are an ideal place to stretch your legs and enjoy some fresh air during this difficult time, he said.
“We’ve been through difficulties before, and we’ll get through this as a community,” Pearson said. “This place transcends time.”