By PatrickWinderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The future of the Heritage Center is again uncertain, as the group that manages the building has announced it will relinquish control of the building on July 1.
In letters sent Friday to Mayor Bob Rice, City Attorney Jim Kaze, and members of the H. Earl Clack Museum Board, the Clack Foundation said it is turning management responsibility of the Heritage Center over to the city.
The foundation managed the building under a lease with the city since 1996, when the city purchased the building from the U.S. Postal Service. When the lease expired in 2001, it continued to manage the landmark under a tenancy-at-will agreement. The city and foundation officials have been in the process of writing a new lease agreement.
The letter sent to city officials gave no explanation for the foundation's decision. A separate letter sent to the Clack Museum Board said the foundation cannot afford to continue managing the Heritage Center.
"The financial and time demands of the actual operations of the building have not allowed our Foundation to provide adequate support to the Museum," the letter said. "The sad fact is our Foundation can no longer afford to shoulder the financial responsibility for the continued operation of this City owned building."
The Clack Foundation was formed to support the Clack Museum.
The Heritage Center is home to the H. Earl Clack Museum, the North American Rural Futures Institute, and several other offices. All of the tenants have been given a 30-day notice of the city's takeover, building manager Debe VandenBoom said this morning.
Foundation president Elaine Morse could not be reached for comment. Rice and museum manager Emily Mayer-Lossing declined to comment this morning.
It is not immediately clear what will happen to the building after July 1.
"We're very much up in the air right now," said museum board chair Ron VandenBoom, who is Debe VandenBoom's husband. "They're surrendering control of the building to the city of Havre and that, of course, includes all financial obligations. We don't know. The ball is in the hands of the city."
VandenBoom said he hopes the Heritage Center will continue to be the home of the Clack Museum
"We do not want to be in a position where we hang a sign on the door and say, 'If you want to see Havre's history, go to Rudyard or Blaine County,'" he said. "We feel very strongly that Havre needs a museum of its own."
VandenBoom said he sees four options for the city once the Clack Foundation surrenders management of the building.
"The worse-case scenario is they slap a lock on the door. Secondly, they sell the building, and then we would be at the mercy of whoever buys it. Thirdly, the city could try to run it. Fourthly, there's a possibility they will sit down with the foundation and make them an offer they can't refuse," he said.
City officials have refused to provide cash assistance to the Heritage Center, citing budget shortfalls and promises in 1996 that no taxpayer money would be used for the building once it was purchased from the Postal Service.
The foundation came to the city several times last spring and summer asking for financial and in-kind help to ease the burden of running the building. The foundation had said it might walk away from the building if no help was available.
In July the City Council agreed to provide maintenance and other services for the building, but the help is not enough, the foundation's letter to the museum board said.
"The degree of financial help" from the city has been "strictly limited," the letter said. "The current negotiations for a mutually agreeable lease have become stalemated, with the City of Havre hesitant or unable to commit the resources necessary for the Foundation to continue the current operating scenario."
Foundation members have said the high cost of maintaining the Heritage Center has undermined its ability to support the Clack Museum.
"While some of the smaller projects were designed to improve the home for our Museum, and to improve the appearance of the building, most of the larger projects were necessary to bring the building into compliance with current building codes and accessibility requirements," the letter to the museum board said.
Those renovations included building a fire escape, installing a wheelchair lift and ramps and remodeling a bathroom, the letter said.