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Restoring the River Heritage Center

Published: Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 2, 2012 at 10:01 a.m.

Despite a lack of funds and expert volunteers, work is expected to begin later this year on the repair and restoration of the south wall of the 105 year-old former livery stable housing the David Yearsley River Heritage Center in Petaluma's Steamer Landing Park on the McNear Peninsula.

Named in honor of longtime Petaluma Riverkeeper David Yearsley, who died last year, the long range plan is to restore and transform the building into an interpretive center in Steamer Landing Park. The historic building was relocated to the 10-acre park in 2004.

According to the center's mission statement, the purpose of the center is to “connect current and future generations to the history, resources and wonders of the Petaluma River and its adjacent sloughs, marshes and farmlands through the practice and teaching of maritime, agricultural and outdoor heritage skills.” Among the specific goals of the center is improving river access, recreation, tourism and educational opportunities.

The focus right now is just on getting the permit to do the work, said J.T. Wick, chair of the Friends of the Petaluma River board of directors, the volunteer group responsible for the center's development under a 2009 cooperation agreement with the city.

On Tuesday, the Planning Commission approved an application to restore and replace the siding, windows and doors on the south wall of the building.

“You can put your hand or foot through parts of the wall. This is the worst part of the building. If we can get it water tight then we are ahead of the process,” Wick said.

The project will use salvaged wood and windows and will replace lights and doors now missing. The plans also calls for the reintroduction of a cornice that shows up in photos of the building from 1908.

Originally, Petaluma Rebuilding Together, a local non-profit volunteer organization that does home repairs for the needy, had agreed to assist with the project with the help of skilled volunteers. Work was supposed to begin on April 21.

But that's not going to happen, according to Jane Hamilton, Petaluma Rebuilding Together executive director.

“It's just not something we can so right now,” Hamilton said. “We've just taken a $250,000 funding cut with the loss of redevelopment … so we are focused on our own funding to provide services to those who depend on us.”

She didn't rule out the future, however, and neither did Wick.

There are too many variables with regard to materials and workers, Wick added, to put a definite figure on what the south wall project will cost.

Wick said there could be $500,000 available for work on the center if the Petaluma Friends of Recreation (PFOR) are able to put a parcel tax on the November ballot and get it approved by two-thirds of local voters.

Wick is also a member of PFOR. The $500,000 would not cover the total cost of renovating the entire building, he said, but it would go a long way toward getting the work started.

A lot can happen, Wick said, depending on what kind of volunteers show up and how the materials are obtained.

With a permit, he said, The Friends of the Petaluma River are ready and there is “more certainty” to the project.

“There is every reason to believe we could get underway” on the south wall “in 2012,” he added.

(Contact Marsha Trent at argus@arguscourier.com)

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