By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The H. Earl Clack Museum may soon pack up its bags and move out of the Heritage Center, the building it has called home for eight years.
"We never wanted to leave this building, but we're between a rock and a hard place," Ron VandenBoom, who chairs the H. Earl Clack Museum Board, said Thursday. "We don't have many options at this time."
The board formed a committee last week to negotiate a lease for space at the Holiday Village Shopping Center. It is considering the two spaces now occupied by Raising Kayne toy store. The museum could rent the combined space for $800 plus utilities, which have been estimated at $200. The museum has been paying the city of Havre $1,200 in rent since July.
"Right now things don't look that good here (at the Heritage Center)," VandenBoom said at a museum board meeting Thursday night. "The new location would be less space than what we currently have, but not by much."
Hill County's Clack Museum has been facing an uncertain future since July 1, when the H. Earl Clack Foundation - which began leasing the building in 1996 after the city of Havre purchased the former post office and federal courthouse from the U.S. Postal Service with federal grant money - announced it was relinquishing management of the building. Under the Clack Foundation's management, the museum stayed in the center rent-free. After the city took over the building, the museum began paying the city rent.
The Havre City Council voted June 21 to consider selling the building to a private purchaser. The city on Sept. 17 received the green light from the Montana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to move forward with its plans to sell the building. The building has since been advertised for sale in newspapers across the state.
VandenBoom said the three-year lease the board is negotiating with the Holiday Village Shopping Center would provide the museum with the stability it needs.
The committee and the mall are also negotiating a minimum number of hours the museum will be open. The board said the museum will be open a minimum of 20 hours a week, with county holidays off.
The board also considered renting a third mall space at Thursday's meeting, which would cost the museum an additional $100 per month. The board discussed using the third space as an art gallery or an office for the Clack Foundation, but decided to only pursue the two spaces.
"I don't think it's (the art gallery) a big draw for our museum personally," museum board member Tracey Warburton said. "I would like to see us save that extra $100 a month."
The museum is operating on a county budget of about $35,000 per year - the same amount it had last year, when it wasn't paying rent.
"We're going to be strapped this year, working on a bare bones and tight budget," VandenBoom said.
The city had been collecting about $3,000 in rent money per month at the Heritage Center until today. The North American Rural Futures Institute, which had paid $600 in monthly rent, closed its doors Thursday. If the museum follows suit, the city would be left with $1,800 less revenue a month at the center, furthering its urgency to try and sell the building, which it says it cannot afford to keep.
After the museum board committee negotiates a lease with the mall, the matter will go to the county attorney and the Hill County Commission for approval.
"Theoretically we could start moving out of this building as early as mid-October," VandenBoom said.
The museum board will meet again Oct. 11 at 5 p.m. at the Heritage Center.