County may help Heritage Center


The financial woes of the Heritage Center may be alleviated by the prospect of increased county dollars and a potential rental contract, the center's manager said today.

The two deals could bring an additional $1,100 a month into the center, which has been unable to generate enough money to cover monthly expenses. The center has been operating with a $1,000 monthly deficit.

The timing is critical for the center, which houses a county-run museum and a number of business and other offices.

The board of the H. Earl and Margaret Turner Clack Memorial Museum Foundation, which manages the center, said last week that unless more funding was found to operate the downtown landmark, the board would have to relinquish it to the city of Havre, which owns the building.

That could force the city to close and sell the building, Havre Mayor Bob Rice said last week.

Museum board member Val Hickman said today that the board has proposed a measure to cut labor costs, and use the money to help the foundation offset its expenses. The board plans to eliminate the assistant museum manager's position, which is unfilled, and reduce the hours of the museum manager, Hickman said.

The proposal, which would generate about $500 a month, must be approved by the Hill County Commission because museum workers are county employees.

"We're just trying to do our part to make up for the shortfall," she said, and added that the museum board does not want to move the museum. "It's such a beautiful building," she said.

The proposal, approved by the county museum board Monday night, arrives simultaneously with the possibility of a new tenant renting multiple offices in the Heritage Center, center manager Debe VandenBoom said.

The North American Rural Futures Institute has expressed interest in signing a one-year contract with the center, renting three offices at a cost of $600 a month, she said.

"It is a saving grace," she said. If the deal goes through, she added, "it would make a great partnership."

The institute's director, Timlynn Babitsky, approached the center about renting the space late last week, VandenBoom said. No papers have been signed, but the center is already preparing for the move, which VandenBoom is "99.9 percent" sure will happen.

Later this month the center will install high-speed Internet connections in the Heritage Center at the request of the institute and other tenants, VandenBoom said.

Babitsky confirmed the institute's interest in the Heritage Center in an e-mail to the Havre Daily News.

The recent developments are extremely encouraging, VandenBoom said. The foundation board will likely postpone a vote previously planned for next week that would have handed control of the museum back to the city, she said.

Foundation board president Keith Lokensgard and vice president Elaine Morse said last week the move was imminent unless city and county governments contributed additional funding. The $1,000 monthly deficit was being covered by the foundation, which was created to oversee the H. Earl Clack Museum. Morse and Lokensgard said it was unfair for the foundation to cover the cost of building maintenance at the expense of the museum.

The Heritage Center, formerly the post office and federal court in Havre, has required a number of renovations in recent years, including roof repairs and installing new windows. City officials said in March that it may need boiler work and electrical upgrades.


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