Financial, structural problems plague History CenterGoodhue County Historical Society collections manager Johanna Grothe wishes she could do more about the water from a leaky ceiling seeping down the museum's walls and dripping onto the artifacts.
Goodhue County Historical Society collections manager Johanna Grothe wishes she could do more about the water from a leaky ceiling seeping down the museum's walls and dripping onto the artifacts.
Each time it rains, she heads down to the basement archives - wiping old pipe wrenches with a towel, cleaning the mold spores off a worn canvas umbrella with a vacuum.
"We're trying to preserve them the best way we can with what we have," she said of the artifacts.
Water issues are just one of a series of problems that have come to a head for the Goodhue County Historical Society this summer. A projected decrease in county funding, an endowment fund eaten away by the recession and spotty attendance all have taken their toll on the non-profit organization and its stated mission to protect the county's historical artifacts.
"We're in dire straights, there's no getting around that," said Historical Society Board Chairwoman Roseanne Grosso of Red Wing.
Grosso said that after years of getting by with fund drives and cutbacks, the organization is operating at a bare minimum level. The history center currently employs four full-time staff, down from the 11 who worked there in 1999.
When no visitors are present, employees turn out the lights on the exhibits to save on the electric bill.
Officials say they're seeking money now to get the 141-year-old organization through to the new year. After that, a long-term plan will be needed, Grosso said.
"This is not going to change any time soon. That's why we need to find a workable solution," she said.
The recession has not been kind to the historical society's traditional sources of funding. Its mainstays - endowments, county funding and donations - have all taken a hit in recent years.
The society's endowment fund with the St. Paul Foundation was at $702,000 as of this June, down from a pre-recession high of $1,009,000 in 2007. The organization draws an annual stipend of 5.5 percent from the fund.
Donations to the center have decreased with the economic downturn, despite efforts by the historical society to raise money through fund drives and other community events.
"People have less money to give," said Historical Society Director Char Henn. "But that's true now everywhere."
Local government aid will likely take a hit next year also, as Goodhue County works to solve a significant budget shortfall of its own.
If its preliminary budget is approved in December, the county will lower its contribution to the society to $92,000 next year from the $102,000 it gave this year.
Commissioner Richard Samuelson said that decrease shouldn't be construed as a lack of respect for what the historical society does. He said it is simply a reflection of the current economic climate.
"I think it would probably be in the best interest of everyone to cut back right now," he said.
Cutbacks in funding aren't the only thing plaguing the historical society, however. Problems with the History Center building, which is rented from the city of Red Wing, have also come to a head this summer.
The building, constructed in the early 20th century and expanded in the 1990s, has sprung leaks through the ceiling, windows and floors.
Leaks have been a problem at the center for nearly two decades, said Henn, but they have increased in intensity this summer - with water threatening to damage artifacts.
"It's gotten much worse this year," Henn said.
City officials have said they may have to spend around $500,000 next year to fix the building. The Red Wing City Council voted on Monday to refund the society's 2010 rent payment of $8,500 as a result of the building issue.
Beyond structural problems, the facility's location far from the riverfront and downtown areas frequented by tourists has long drawn the attention of local officials. They say admissions would fare better in a more high-traffic area. No plans are in the works to relocate the history center, however.
Members of the historical society plan to get the word out about the organization's financial problems in the weeks ahead in the hopes of increasing donations.
In addition to a holiday event scheduled for Dec. 4, they plan to circulate a flier comparing the society's situation to that of the Titanic - something thought of as "unsinkable" but headed straight toward an iceberg.
"I assure you, she can sink, and she will without your help," the flier reads.