By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The H. Earl Clack Foundation Board said Tuesday it will no longer operate the Heritage Center if the city and county don't provide more money to run the center.
The decision could force the city of Havre to sell the building and cause the H. Earl Clack Museum to find a new home, Mayor Bob Rice said.
The foundation is responsible for managing the building but has been unable to keep up with maintenance costs.
The foundation board will vote in two weeks to relinquish control of the building if more assistance from local government is not forthcoming, foundation board president Keith Lokensgard told Rice, City Council member Tom Farnham and the Hill County Commission during a meeting Tuesday.
Lokensgard and foundation vice president Elaine Morse said the foundation was neglecting its duties to the museum because of the demands of maintaining the building.
"We would be very sad to leave the building, but I think we've expended every option," Lokensgard said, adding that the purpose of the foundation is to assist the museum, not to maintain an aging structure.
The city purchased the Heritage Center from the U.S. Postal Service in 1996. The Clack Foundation signed a five-year lease, which expired in August 2001. Presently it operates the building under a "tenancy-at-will" agreement with the city.
Managing the building has become increasingly difficult, Lokensgard said. The foundation has "born the brunt" of the costs for maintaining the building, despite assistance from the city and county, he said.
Lokensgard called the Heritage Center "a tremendous money pit."
Morse said the center accrues $2,200 a month by renting office space, but that monthly bills top $3,200. The foundation cannot afford to continue to bleed money, she said.
Lokensgard lauded the city and county for their efforts to keep the building open, but said they simply are not enough. If a solution cannot be found, the foundation will vote to hand the Heritage Center back to the city, he said.
The five-member Clack Museum Board manages the museum, which is a county entity. Board president Lou Lucke said today that the county decides where the museum is located, but that it would have to move if the Heritage Center is closed.
Rice said he did not want to see the museum move, but did not have a solution to the financial problems plaguing the Heritage Center.
"There's just too much sweat invested in that building to turn our backs on it," he said, but added that a meeting he had last week with County Commissioner Pat Conway to find solutions had been fruitless. "I'm grasping at straws at this point," he said.
"The effort is there, but the money isn't," Conway added.
Rice asked Lokensgard if the foundation would continue to manage the Heritage Center if the city and county could cover the monthly $1,000 deficit.
Lokensgard said the foundation would be more inclined to retain the current arrangement if additional funds became available, but that long-term solutions would still be lacking.
The building needs energy efficient windows on the top two floors. Work also is needed on the wiring and the boilers.
Conway echoed his sentiments, and said that problems with the Heritage Center will only worsen with passing years.
Rice said trying to get more money from the city would be a tough sell to the City Council, and expressed concerns about sinking tax dollars into the Heritage Center.
County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said today that the county has not evaluated its budget to determine if additional money can be earmarked for the center.
The museum board will meet on Monday to discuss the museum's future.