No decision yet on help for center


A month after a group of Heritage Center supporters appealed to officials from Havre and Hill County to come together to help shore up the historic building's finances, the groups are talking but there is still nothing definite.

The Heritage Center Committee, which includes Havre Mayor Bob Rice, Clack Foundation vice president Elaine Morse, another foundation representative, and businesses and organizations that use space in the center, met Thursday night for more than an hour.

Rice, vice chair of the committee, said he met with one of the county commissioners earlier this week with some recommendations, but would not discuss them "until they have had a chance to digest them."

"I'll be honest with you," Rice told the committee. "I haven't seen any progress."

Hill County Commissioner Pat Conway said today that Rice had visited him earlier this week.

"I can't tell you anything because I haven't talked with the (other) commissioners," Conway said, adding, "We're always willing to work with the city."

Rice stressed that the decision to give city funds or services to the building must be made by the City Council, not him. He said he thinks the council is evenly divided over whether to support the center.

"It will be brought up in our budgeting and it will be approached," he added.

Officials on both sides have said they want to help the building, but that money is tight and they may not be able to help until the new budget year, which begins on July 1.

The meeting, which had a much smaller turnout than last month's meeting, was a mixture of positive and negative signs.

Discussion of funding for the center, which has a $1,000 monthly shortfall, was made more difficult, perhaps, because no one from the City Council or the County Commission attended.

"They were all invited to the meeting and they all didn't show up, apparently," Rice said of the council members.

Rice said the council will start to hash out its budget for next year on May 16.

"To my knowledge there haven't been any developments," City Council president Rick Pierson said this morning.

He said there are about 200 different line items in the budget where the money could come from, but that a commitment won't be made until the budget process starts.

Finance Committee chair Tom Farnham said it could be the end of July or later before anything is certain.

"We feel it really is an asset to the community, but we won't know where we're sitting until the end of July." Farnham said the budget would be finalized on Aug. 18.

"It's a slow process," he said.

Farnham said he did not attend the meeting because he had a meeting at the Eagles Club, which he manages. He said council member Emily Mayer was out of town, and he had thought Pierson was going to attend. Mayer is also a member of the Heritage Center Committee.

"I was underneath an automobile all night," Pierson said.

While it was clear that city and county support is still up in the air, there appeared to be some encouraging developments on other fronts.

Most concrete was the City Council's approval of funding this week for the first stage in the replacement of the center's leaky roof, a project that has been in the works for two years and apparently will finally be completed this year.

"I believe it's a go," Debe VandenBoom, the center's building manager, said after the meeting. She said she hoped construction would begin in July. The $10,000 local match for the construction project has all been raised.

VandenBoom is also investigating several funding sources to help with operating costs, and updating and repairing the building's two boilers, as well as valves, thermostats and air vents in the heating system. Together the cost amounts to thousands of dollars.

VandenBoom said she is in the "preprofiling" stage of several grants, including a $20,000 Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program grant for the boilers, an operating grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services worth up to $150,000, and several smaller building and equipment grants.

VandenBoom said at the meeting that there is a potential renter interested in moving into the Heritage Center, and that she will probably know next week. She said she is also sending a letter to realtors to ask them to mention the rental space to potential renters.

Rice is also helping the center reduce the cost of replacing radiator valves by rebuilding them instead of replacing them. He said he intends to use people on government assistance to help clean the building. Under a new law, they are required to work 24 hours per week.

The meeting left Morse, who chairs the committee, cautiously optimistic.

"I was hoping they'd come up with some concrete plans, but we're moving in the right direction," Morse said. "If they've opened the door there, that's a start."

"It's been a struggle," she said. "We're finally feeling like we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel because we're starting to get more renters," as well as more public awareness, public programs and involvement of community members.

Morse said the center would "probably be able to hold out" even if no help is available until July.


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