The Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum started off the year great. It was in the process of purchasing land to consolidate the different aspects of the museum into one location, as opposed to having the patrol bomber airplane across the street and the research center down the road from the actual museum located on Pioneer Way.
“We thought we were in great shape,” museum President Wil Shellenberger said. “We didn’t expect to get tested so vigorously this quickly.”
Then COVID-19 pandemic hit and the museum was forced to close its doors during its busy season, from March to October when the museum sees about 700 visitors a month.
Shellenberger also said because the museum is an entirely volunteer organization, it does not qualify for most of the government assistance programs that have sprung in the wake of the pandemic.
On top of shutting its doors, the museum also missed out on its biggest fundraising event of the year, its annual Celebration of Flight dinner.
According to Shellenberger, the dinner normally nets about $40,000 in donations.
So in response this year, the museum started its summer fundraiser a couple months early. As of June 11, the Museum raised about $15,000.
“The initial response has been very good,” Shellenberger said. “But we have a long way to go to get to $60,000. We hope the community will pitch in and help us get to that goal.”
Sixty thousand dollars is the minimum the museum needs to cover operating costs, Shellenberger said. But the larger goal of $80,000 will allow the museum to continue with its programs it had scheduled earlier in the year.
Shellenberger said the summer fundraiser is also important because the museum is seeking bank financing to help with the purchase of land near Goldie Road.
The land would be used to store the massive bomber airplane that currently sits across the street from the museum.
“Here we are, we’re closed and we just lost our biggest fundraiser,” Shellenberger said. “So it’s really critical that we make the hole in our budget through this fundraiser so we’re in good standing when we apply to the banks for a loan.”
As of right now, the museum must remain closed per Governor Jay Inslee’s phased reopening plan, but Shellenberger said he expects to reopen as soon as Island County gets approved to enter Phase 3.
Although Shellenberger said he doesn’t have exact guidance on how many people will be allowed to enter the museum when they open their doors again, he and the staff have been preparing.
They’ve put social distancing markers on the floor, plexiglass shields near the registers, volunteers have masks and disinfectants.
However, a few of the exhibits will remain closed because he said they are too difficult to disinfect such as the night vision goggle simulator, one of the two flight simulators, the tailhooks display and a bomber turret display will also remain closed.
While he is eager to reopen, Shellenberger said as of right now the biggest risk to the museum is a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
“If a second wave comes back, then it’s really back to the drawing boards,” Shellenberger said.
• To donate visit www.pbymf.org or mail donations to PBY Memorial Foundation, PO Box 941 Oak Harbor, WA 98277.