By Krystal Spring
Emily Mayer Lossing sits quietly at her desk in the museum at the Heritage Center. Around her, displays depicting life in the olden days of north-central Montana whisper of Hill County's past, giving visitors a glimpse of the county's rich history.
The H. Earl Clack Museum made its home in the Heritage Center in 1996. For the past eight years the museum has attempted to bring the county's history to life.
"We have so much to offer," said museum manager Mayer Lossing, who is also a member of the Havre City Council. "This museum is a wonderful gift to the communty."
Mayer Lossing said she loves having the museum located in one of the city's oldest and most historic buildings, and she would like to see it stay in its current location. But only time will tell if she gets her wish.
The fate of the building is up in the air. Three private entities are pursuing a possible purchase of the Heritage Center from the city of Havre. The city assumed full responsibility of the downtown landmark Thursday, after the H. Earl Clack Foundation relinquished its management responsibilities for the building.
The foundation had leased the building since 1996, when the city purchased the former post office and federal courthouse from the U.S. Postal Service. When a five-year lease expired in 2001, the foundation continued to manage the building under a tenancy-at-will agreement with the city of Havre. The foundation announced that it was giving up management responsibilities of the building in May, citing funding issues.
With no money available to keep the center going, the Havre City Council voted June 21 to consider selling the historic building to a private party. Until a purchaser is found, the city will manage the building.
"For now everything will continue, business as usual, and we hope it stays that way," Havre Mayor Bob Rice said.
But the uncertainty of the center's future has some building tenants worried.
"We've put a stop on developing any new projects," said Ron VandenBoom, chairman of the Clack Museum board. "If we can't pick it up and take it with us, we're not going to do it."
Despite the concerns, the Clack Museum remains open to the public.
"At the present time we do not have any concern that the museum will close," VandenBoom said. "We are a county entity; we're not going to evaporate and go away. We may eventually have to find a new location, but until then we'll remain open."
The Havre Art Association taught art classes and set up displays at the center's art gallery from 1996 on. The gallery space was donated to the group by the museum board. But after eight years at the center, the association packed up its belongings and moved out last week.
"We're playing it safe," Art Association president Delores Ball said last week. "Not knowing what the city is going to do, we thought it best to move our stuff out at this point."
The Art Association is not the only building tenant to jump ship. Jeremy Yellin recently moved his attorney's office from the center's second floor to the Masonic Temple, located right across the street from the Heritage Center. Yellin did not return phone calls last week or today.
Despite the uncertainty of the building's situation, Timlynn Babitsky, director of the North American Rural Futures Institute and a tenant on the first floor of the center, says she'll stay.
"We're gonna ride it out and see what happens," Babitsky said last week. "I love being here. I feel happy just walking through the front doors of this building."
Mayor Rice plans to meet with the building's tenants next week to discuss the city's takeover of the center.
"Obviously with the budget situation, the sooner we find a solution, the better," said Rice. "But I want our final decision to be a viable solution for the building, so we don't want to rush anything."
Until the building's fate becomes known, Museum Board members say they'll remain on pins and needles.
"We need some security," VandenBoom said. "We need to be able to hammer a nail into the wall and know it will be there for awhile."