Battleship faces a new foe — heating costs

Will Richmond

Could the soaring cost of heating fuel sink the Battleship Massachusetts and the other exhibits that make up Battleship Cove?

Executive Director John S. Casey said such a fate is possible, though remote, as the popular tourist destination is seeing a decline in revenue this summer.

Casey estimates projected utility costs will rise by $150,000 for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, but is optimistic the latest decline in oil prices will continue and help lower the expected increase.

Currently, Casey said, a fuel price of $2.50 per gallon is being paid and has observed prices now hovering in the area of $4.50 per gallon. In all, Casey said 50,000 gallons of fuel are contracted for annually.

Casey said recouping the expense of rising fuel prices is difficult due to flat visitor numbers.

“I don’t think we’re any different from other businesses like ours and museums,” Casey said. “I mean, we’re in the black, but our numbers are flat.”

Casey said that while visitors are coming at about the same rate, they aren’t spending as much as they used to in the gift shop or on food concessions.

“Not only is the fuel increasing, but there’s an increase this year in water and sewer service charges, and we’re seeing a decline in ship store sales because the disposable income people had before is now being put in their gas tank,” Casey said.

With the numbers failing to add up, the world’s largest collection of historic naval ship could be closed to visitors more often.

An appeal made to donors in Battleship Cove’s summer newsletter The Baystater, pleads for donors to help offset the higher costs.

“We’re doing everything we can to responsibly conserve energy, and we want to remain open 362 days per year, as we have since our inception more than 40 years ago. We cannot do it without your help,” the appeal reads.

The only days Battleship Cove closes is Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Casey remained optimistic that additional closures would not take place.

“I don’t see that as an issue, unless the cost of fuel goes up to $5, $5.50 a gallon,” Casey said.

Casey said the majority of fuel is used to heat the Battleship Massachusetts and the Destroyer Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

He said maintaining a constant temperature on the two vessels is made even more complicated by the waters they sit in year round.

“This is a unique business in that it’s a floating business, so these ships absorb the cold out of the water,” Casey said. “They were built for war, not for energy efficiency. But we have to make everyone comfortable or they won’t come.”

In an effort to offset the effects of higher fuel costs, Casey said, energy efficient practices are being adopted.

Casey said every other light bulb has been removed from the exhibits and programmable thermostats have been installed.

“We keep the heat at 65 degrees and wear sweaters,” Casey said.

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