Saturday, August 15, 2009

Plea from the NHM folks

Posted By on Sat, Aug 15, 2009 at 12:29 PM

The folks who called for a gathering Wednesday at HSU to see if there's a way to save the imperiled Natural History Museum vowed to send out a press release regarding their intentions ASAP. Here's what they came up with, followed by guidelines from HSU administrators regarding what they want to see if the community effort to save the museum is to be taken seriously. CR prof Karen Reiss, who sent out the p.r., describes the guidelines as "sobering" -- they basically call for $120,000 immediately and a plan to raise $300K-$400K a year for "sustainability."


Humboldt State University announced August 7 that it would permanently close the HSU Natural History Museum at the end of the month. But concerned community members are saying, not so fast.

A group of more than 60 parents, K-12 teachers, HSU and College of the Redwoods faculty, and others gathered at the museum Wednesday night to discuss the closing. They were joined by Dean James Howard and Associate Dean Steven Smith of HSU’s College of Natural Resources and Sciences, who offered to explain the rationale behind the decision. The meeting was organized by Karen Reiss, a professor of biology at College of the Redwoods and member of the museum’s board of directors, to explore whether HSU would be amenable to discussing alternatives to closing the museum.

HSU owns the museum building on the corner of G and 13th in Arcata. It also pays about $100,000 annually for the museum director's salary, utilities, maintenance, and a portion of the museum's operating expenses. This comes to about half the annual budget. The museum generates a roughly equivalent amount, about $120,000, through memberships, programs, store sales, sponsorships, and donations from the public. According to Howard, HSU stands to save between $50,000 and $100,000 annually if the museum closes.

The university’s sudden decision was prompted by the California legislature's recent drastic budget cuts. Howard and Smith emphasized however, that there were other contributing factors. An August 2008 report from the museum director stated that current levels of funding were inadequate for continued operations: staff was stretched too thin to take vacation time, and yet the museum couldn’t shut down without losing revenue. This report requested an increase of about $125,000 per year for 2.5 new staff positions, as well $40,000 for a one-time purchase of a trailer for office space.

Community members at the meeting highlighted the importance of the 20-year-old museum to the community at large, but especially to a generation of children and educators. This past year, with McClean Foundation funds, the museum developed and distributed grade-specific curriculum to all K-5 teachers in the county to enable them to use the museum to teach California state standards in science education. This program cannot be implemented if the museum doors close. Museum records indicate that over the last ten years 25,000 school age children have visited the Museum.

Humboldt County kids aren't the only ones who have thronged to the museum over the years. Sharyn Marks, a professor of biology at HSU, recalled how 600 folks of all ages came to this year's six-hour Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Day, presented by Marks and her herpetology students. Museum programs include other programs for adults such as last year’s Skull Identification workshops and Bee Awareness event.

At Wednesday’s meeting, community members repeatedly pressed deans Howard and Smith to clearly state that they wanted to see the museum stay open, and would be receptive to a proposal to do so. Ultimately, they agreed, offered to develop clear guidelines for what a proposal would need to include in order to be seriously considered by HSU, and then excused themselves from the remainder of the meeting. Discussion turned to organization of a concerted community response that would include 1) a request to extend the closing date, 2) a plan to generate public awareness and short-term funding to keep the museum open this year, and 3) the development of a sustainable “new model” for funding and operations that would ensure museum operation into the future.

A meeting has been scheduled for Monday, August 17, 6p.m., at the museum, to draft a letter to HSU and coordinate initial publicity and fund-raising efforts. Any community members ready to undertake these efforts are welcome to attend.

For more information, please contact Karen Reiss, 825-0465 or [email protected]


And from HSU:


Proposal Guidelines to Keep the HSU Natural History Museum
Open and to Develop a Sustainable Source of Funding

James Howard and Steven A. Smith College of Natural Resources and Sciences

In an attempt to help focus an earnest proposal that seeks to extend the proposed deadline to close the Natural History Museum and ultimately to identify funding sources to sustain its operation, we have developed this guideline. Please understand that the proposal must seriously recognize and address the severe budget cuts the Humboldt State University and the College of Natural Resources and Sciences are facing. This means that funds must be identified to cover existing State funds that we use to support the NHM.  We appreciate that the timeline for developing this proposal is exceedingly short. However, because our fiscal year started July 1, every day we delay implementing our efforts to mitigate the budget deficits increases the severity of future cuts. Our recommendation is that the Board considers a two-step approach. The first identifies funds that will ensure that the NHM remains open through the end of the 09-10 fiscal year (June 30, 2010).  This time extension would allow identification and implementation of longer term funds to sustain the NHM at a rate approximately commensurate with the recommendation by the Director (“The Sustainability of the HSU Natural History Museum: At the Crossroads” dated August 2008). This proposal should be submitted to Jim Howard, Dean, College of Natural Resources and Sciences with a copy to me by August 28, 2009.

Two step proposal:
Step One: Describe how $120,000 will be raised to cover state general fund allocation for September 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. This would provide the NHM  a ten-month extension to implement long-term sustainable funding sources

Step Two: Describe how $300,000-400,000 will be raised annually to adequately sustain the NHM. Target implementation date July 1, 2010

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

Freelance photographer and writer, Arts and Entertainment editor from 1997 to 2013.

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