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History Center Reduces Hours, Tackles Debt

All-Volunteer Staff to Reopen C.R. Museum on Saturday

Steve Gravelle

The Gazette

April 28, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

    CEDAR RAPIDS — With hard work, public support and volunteer commitment, The Carl and Mary Koehler History Center will work its way out of debt, the museum’s new chairman said last night.

    ‘‘The board of directors is going to have to be a very active board,’’ Tom Hauer said at the center’s annual meeting.

    The History Center, 615 First Ave. SE, closed Feb. 1 with $170,000 debt and continuing operating deficits, laying off 12 paid employees. Director Martha Aldridge was let go a month later.

    The museum will reopen Saturday on reduced hours with an all-volunteer staff. Open just eight hours a week — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays — the center also will charge reduced admission: $2 for adults, $1 for ages 6 through 17, and under 6 free.

    The reduced revenue and operating expenses, along with the existing endowment and $67,000 a year from Linn County, will be enough to meet the center’s $125,000 operating budget, Hauer said.

    ‘‘That’s basically what it costs to operate this facility,’’ he said.

    A combination of debt forgiveness and board donations cut the $170,000 debt by $15,000 to $20,000, Hauer said.

    ‘‘The board has been basically paying the bills,’’ he said.

    A donor has pledged $20,000 if the center raises an additional $60,000. The board has pledged $20,000 toward that balance, Hauer said. Raising an additional $40,000 from the public will leave about $70,000 in debt outstanding.

    By paying off the outstanding debt and meeting minimal operating expenses, ‘‘we’ll be free and clear on this cash flow,’’ Hauer said.

    Facing foreclosure in 2003, the center’s board raised $1.4 million to pay off the mortgage on the $4 million building, opened in 1999.

    Jim White, the center’s new volunteer operations manager, said the center can again become a full-time operation by starting slowly.

    ‘‘It will be moons before we have enough funds to start hiring staff again,’’ White said. ‘‘The board is really concerned about not starting something we can’t finish. If we get more volunteers, we will open more hours. We will change exhibits as best we can.’’

    The center’s archives and collection will be available to researchers during public hours. White plans to staff the galleries with four volunteers, the library with two.

    In addition to Hauer, the board elected Fred Timko as vice chairman; Sigrid Reynolds, secretary; and Carol Helbling, treasurer. White, Richard Thomas, Peter Jaynes, Marvin Houg and David Cerka were named to three-year board terms.

    Retiring board members were former Chairwoman Kristin Novak, Vice Chairman Dick Meisterling, Al Ruffalo, Gary Grant, Bill Stone and Paul Rhines.