North Huron Museum decision deferred until budget deliberations
BY DENNY SCOTT
After an extensive presentation and impassioned pleas from community leaders and residents, North Huron Township Council deferred a decision on moving the North Huron Museum to budget time.
At its Monday night meeting, council received a report presented by long-time community volunteers Bill Farnell and Doug Kuyvenhoven. The former spoke to the importance of the museum while the latter spoke to the financial specifics. The report stated the museum should be moved to the Historic CNR Train Station in Wingham, which has been offered to the municipality for $1.
Farnell said North Huron is at a crossroads with the museum and needs to make a decision and he suggested the museum be maintained to continue to tell the “amazing historic and cultural stories” contained therein while also promoting North Huron as a dynamic tourist destination.
Kuyvenhoven spoke of how the facility, which is smaller than the museum, which has been closed to the public for several years, would be able to house the collections in question, explaining that a 30 foot by 40 foot structure, which is already on the property, could be moved and connected to the train station to allow for more storage. With the movement of the building, preparation of the site and building and installation of archive shelves, the project would cost $300,000, however he pledged that no tax dollars would be necessary for the preparation of the site.
He said a fundraising committee would raise over $338,000 for the project, which will cover the $300,000 as well as $38,075, the difference between the cost of deaccessioning the artifacts ($139,175) and moving the artifacts ($177,250). That means that council, regardless of whether it decides to close or move the museum, will be responsible for $139,175, either in moving costs or in deaccessioning costs.
He said, if council approved the move, the committee would start fundraising next year with hopes to start the renovations and moving in 2023.
Kuyvenhoven also spoke to the operational cost of the museum at the new site, which will run $44,370 annually, approximately $10,000 more than the estimate to run the museum in 2016 at its current location. He said $20,000 of his estimates included having a staff member on site eight hours a week as well as the cost to maintain the land. He anticipated that North Huron wouldn’t hire additional staff for that time, given that a current staff member could work out of the tourism booth, which will be part of the museum, and that public works staff would handle the landscaping and snow removal.
“It’s not going to impact your budget in reality,” he said. “The hard costs will be [environmental controls] and insurance, which works out to about $25,000.”
He said the “old post office”, the current museum, is a far less efficient building than the train station, so those funds will go further. He also suggested the municipality could sell the old post office and the proceeds could be invested into a fund to keep the museum operational.
Kuyvenhoven said that, with retiring baby boomers having money to spend, they will be looking for things to do and the museum could provide not just a destination, but a hub to get people interested in North Huron. He said that, in recent studies, 85 per cent of travellers to Ontario sought to visit facilities tied to the arts and that, as the museum is now, it attracts international travellers, especially after Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize win.
Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip said he would like to see more details on the plan to make sure the museum isn’t run the same way it was prior to being closed, which saw little uptake on the facility’s offerings. He did say, however, he was excited to see potential economic development that wasn’t tied to the Blyth Festival. He said that wasn’t a knock on the nationally-recognized centre, just a comment that he thought the diversification was worthwhile.
Councillor Kevin Falconer said the report was missing information regarding what would happen if the museum wasn’t successful.
“What if we are in the same spot we are now and we have to [deaccess] the collection?” he asked. “If this doesn’t come to fruition, if there aren’t enough volunteers to support the museum going forward, what happens then?”
Kuyvenhoven, who has volunteered to donate the property, said he did still expect a commitment out of council to “stick it out and make it work.” He had originally suggested a 20-year term when he addressed council two years ago, and if the museum was to falter during that time, the land’s ownership would revert back to him. Now, he suggested an 18-year term.
Falconer said his concern still wasn’t being addressed, saying that, if council found after five years the program wasn’t working or the price skyrocketed, there would be 13 or 14 years of contract left.
“What you’re saying is, no matter what it costs, it has to work,” he said.
Falconer said the municipality has been inundated with these kinds of requests for years, where the municipality takes over a structure or site for $1, but then has to maintain it at cost to the taxpayers.
Kuyvenhoven said council didn’t need to make a decision that evening and suggested councillors take a tour of the facility before ruling on the issue. Council deferred the issue until its budget deliberations, which are set to start tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 22, with a special meeting at 9 a.m.