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Foundation decides to continue operating Heritage Center


The H. Earl Clack Foundation board has voted to continue to operate the Heritage Center for the immediate future.

The decision, announced in a press release from the foundation Friday, comes after months of uncertainty about the future of the historic building, which is beset by monthly shortfalls of about $600 and serious maintenance issues.

The historic building contains the county's H. Earl Clack Museum and art gallery and private office space.

"The H. Earl Clack Foundation is pleased to announce our decision to remain in our current supervisory role in the operations of the City of Havre's Heritage Center building," the press release said.

Clack Foundation vice president Elaine Morse said today the decision is not long-term, and that the foundation will continue to evaluate the viability of the center "on an ongoing basis." She added that she hopes the foundation can stay in the building long-term.

"We did a lot of soul searching and our decision was we're trying to do what's best for Havre and the Heritage Center and the museum, and I guess time will only tell if we made the right decision or not," Morse said.

Heritage Center building manager Debe VandenBoom said the foundation board voted 8-0 on Aug. 27 in favor of remaining in the center.

The city has owned the building since 1996, when it was purchased from the U.S. Postal Service for $150,000. The Clack Foundation contributed $50,000 to the purchase.

In 1996 the Clack Foundation leased the building from the city. The foundation's five-year lease ran out in August 2001, but under its current "tenancy-at-will" agreement with the city, the foundation can continue to use the building until the city asks it to leave. The Clack Foundation has continued to pay to keep the building running.

The foundation came to the city several times this spring and summer asking for financial and in-kind help to ease the burden of running the building. The foundation 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 Morse said she didn't know if it would be enough.

The foundation met twice in late August to decide whether to continue to operate the building or walk away from it. Earlier this month Morse said the foundation had made its decision but would not say what it was.

On Sept. 9, the board of the H. Earl Clack Museum gave preliminary approval to a document transferring $50,000 to the Clack Foundation's endowment fund. If approved, the transfer would increase the foundation's endowment to more than $250,000, which, according to Clack Foundation bylaws, would allow the foundation to begin tapping interest income from its endowment for operating expenses for the Heritage Center.

County museum board chair Ron VandenBoom said today the seven-member board will make a final decision whether to make the transfer at a special meeting Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Heritage Center conference room. He said he is "pretty certain" the board will approve it.

The press release said support of the community will be critical to the foundation's ability to continue to operate the center.

Morse said the board will continue to hold fund-raisers and will focus on recruiting new membership for the foundation.

A yearly membership costs $25 to $49 for an individual, $50 to $99 for a family, and $100 to $249 for a sponsor or business, said Debe VandenBoom, who is married to Ron VandenBoom. Donors who give more than $2,500 get a permanent membership.

Gary Wilson, the chair of the foundation's fund-raising committee, said the foundation will have a re-energized membership drive from now until it holds its first Heritage Center Night on Oct. 25. The event will feature wine and hors d'oeuvres, live entertainment and a brief meeting of the foundation board, Wilson said. It is open to the public and will cost $10 per person and $15 per couple.

"It's a fund-raiser, it's entertainment, and it's a chance for people to catch up with what's going on," Wilson said.

The foundation will continue to hold monthly events, including the brown bag concert series, the Celebrity Luncheon series and cooking demonstrations.

City Council member Tom Farnham, who is the chair of the council's Finance Committee, said today he is happy to hear the foundation's decision.

"I think it's great they're going to stay," he said. "I wish the city could fund them more." Farnham said the city will contribute about $8,600 this year to the Heritage Center between maintenance, services and insurance the city agreed to pay.

City Council president Rick Pierson said he thinks the foundation was serious when it said it might have to walk away from the building earlier this year, and that he is glad the board decided not to.

"Well, I'm glad to see it and I hope that they're able to continue with the operation there," Pierson said, adding that he thinks the city did what it could to help the center.

In July, Pierson was the only council member who voted against providing the center with services, citing a promise made to the taxpayers before the building was purchased that it would not cost taxpayers any money.


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