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It's a done deal: Heritage Center gets endowment


Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily News/[email protected]

The H. Earl Clack Foundation is a big step closer to tapping the interest from its endowment fund to operate the Heritage Center, thanks to the transfer of $50,000 from the county museum board.

During a meeting Wednesday night, the H. Earl Clack Museum Board voted unanimously to transfer the funds from the museum's endowment fund to the foundation's endowment.

Once the foundation's endowment reaches $250,000, it can use 80 percent of the earned interest to fund the museum and maintain the Heritage Center, which the group manages. The museum is located in the Heritage Center.

Foundation board vice president Elaine Morse said today that the $50,000 transfer should put the foundation within $6,000 of the $250,000 threshold.

"At our last meeting, our endowment was at $194,000," she said, adding that the foundation board approved the transfer Sept. 17.

"It was a unanimous vote," she said. "This, as a far as we're concerned, is a no-brainer. The money was intended to help the museum, and the purpose of the foundation is to help the museum. This makes perfect sense to us."

The $50,000 was willed to the museum board by a member of the Clack family, museum board president Ron VandenBoom said.

"It was given to us to use as we see fit," he said. "But people need to realize that we're not giving the money to the foundation. The money still belongs to the museum board. We're just allowing them to use it to augment their endowment fund."

The foundation earlier this year threatened to abandon the Heritage Center, citing the high cost of utilities and maintaining the building. The foundation leased the building after the city purchased it in 1996. The lease has expired and the foundation is now operating it under a tenancy-at-will agreement.

If the foundation returned control of the building to the city, the city might have been forced to close it, Havre Mayor Bob Rice said earlier this year. The foundation sought financial assistance from both the city and county governments. The county arranged a $500-a -month assistance package, and the city offered to provide labor, but no cash.

The Heritage Center faced an uncertain future until Aug. 27, when the foundation board voted not to vacate the building. The decision, which the board kept secret until recently, was due in part to the $50,000 transfer, Morse said.

"It's definitely a major step," she said. "The endowment fund is intended to be a source of long-term funding. That's where we're trying to get - financially stable for the long run."

Morse said she is confidant that the foundation can raise enough money to cover the $6,000. A private donor has promised to match dollar-for-dollar any money the foundation raises. "We have already raised $21,000 or $22,000," she said. "So we expect those funds to be matched."

The donors, who wish to remain anonymous, have contributed to the foundation's endowment in the past, Morse added.

It is not clear how long it will take for the $50,000 transfer to be made, VandenBoom and Morse said.

Morse said she expects the foundation to be able to tap the interest from its endowment early next year. She added that she does not know how much interest the fund will generate.

"That really depends on the return on the investments," she said.

The foundation's endowment is in a managed money account with DA Davidson & Co. It includes stocks, bonds and certificates of deposits, according to a memorandum outlining the money transfer.

The memorandum has a number of stipulations dictating how the foundation can use the money. Among them are: The museum board can specify how the money is invested; the foundation must return the money within 90 days after receiving written notice from the museum board; and the money must be returned if the foundation dissolves or goes bankrupt.

"There's no downside to this," VandenBoom said. "There are protections safeguarding the money."

The museum board considered the transfer to be a good investment for the museum, VandenBoom said. If the city closed the building, the museum would have been forced to find a new home, he said.

"We like our home here," he said. "Any alternative - whether it's moving to the fairgrounds or finding another location - would be expensive and time consuming. It just would not be practical. We have plans in the works and need to be focusing on those."

Museum board member Lou Lucke agreed.

"My responsibility is to the museum, not to the foundation," he said. "My concern was that the museum may have had to move elsewhere. This building seems to be ideal for the museum. I've never had a person tell me the museum should be someplace else. Not a single one."

Progress on several projects in the museum had to be halted due to uncertainty about the Heritage Center, Lucke added.

"It's a bit of a relief," he said. "We have projects involving the building that were put on hold. Now that the future of the building is more secure, we can move ahead with those projects.

Both VandenBoom and Morse said the money transfer is not the antidote for all the Heritage Center's woes, but it is a promising step in the right direction.

"It means taking a giant step forward for saving our house," VandenBoom said. "It is not the end all, be all. There's still work to be done. But, having said that, we are really optimistic about the situation."


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