A local task force is working to become a certified nonprofit organization that would take over the Campus Martius and Ohio River museums, in danger of closing due to proposed state budget cuts.
The Marietta museums are two of 18 Ohio Historical Society sites across the state that could lose their funding and have to close after June 30. If the proposed $2 million funding decrease is approved by state legislators, the Historical Society would need a local partner to step in, provide about 50 percent of the money to keep the museums open and run the operations.
"We're hoping that the Legislature decides to reinstate the budget and then on July 1 the museums won't close," said task force member Roger Hall, a longtime Friends of the Museum member. "But what we're doing is preparing for the worst."
MITCH CASEY The Marietta Times
Education specialist Glenna Hoff discusses surveying equipment with fourth-grade students from St. Mary’s School Tuesday during a day long field trip to Campus Martius Museum.
The group has begun the process of becoming a nonprofit, including the incorporation paperwork, and is looking at ways to raise about $100,000 a year to keep the museums open, said member Jean Yost.
"This is a big, big challenge," he said. "We've started a draft of a business plan, and we're working on a budget. Then we would have to negotiate an operating agreement with the Ohio Historical Society. The requirements are just tremendous."
If the nonprofit group does take over museum operations, the sites will have to become more self-sustaining, said Yost.
Ideas being explored include corporate outreach and, specifically, renting the museums out more often for picnics, receptions and company programs.
"That doesn't sound like much, but if you have one or two functions a month it adds thousands to the revenue," Yost said.
There's also still hope that an existing community group could decide to come in and take over the sites, said Hall.
"Right now just about everything is out on the table," he said. "The main priority is still to get the money back in the state budget. That would give us a year or two and we wouldn't have to do this in panic mode."
Marietta Middle School eighth-grader Cheyenne Lemasters, 14, visited Columbus last week to get that message to Ohio's Senate, still debating the budget.
"I just wanted to get the word out and thought it would be different from just making phone calls if they heard from me face to face," she said. "I wanted them to remember how important this is."
Lemasters, who also organized a recent rally in support of the museums, testified before four senators.
"It was very nerve-wracking," she said. "They were kind of intimidating but very nice to me. They gave me a lot of respect."
State Sen. Jimmy Stewart, R-Athens, said Tuesday he would like to see the historical sites not lose their funding but that likely isn't realistic due to the state's economic situation.
"I very much want to restore that funding, not only to Campus Martius but to all the other important sites in Ohio," he said. "It's a worthwhile endeavor. But unlike the federal government, we can't print money and we can't deficit spend. The House spent more money than revenues show is available in their budget, and now we have to correct that."
The House had given back $750,000 of the $2 million cut in their budget but that may be lost again in the Senate version.
It's even possible another couple billion dollars may have to be sliced from the state budget, Stewart said, as state revenue continues to come in lower than expected.
"We're trying to find money for the historical society but also for K through 12 education, higher education, Medicaid, mental health.... we're getting a lot of calls and letters about those things, too," he said.
If the numbers suggested by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland hold, the Ohio Historical Society will have seen its museum budget cut from $8.3 million in 2006 to $5.4 million and its number of employees fall from 401 in 2001 to 210.
"These museums have the treasures that were part of the start of Ohio," said Yost. "And it started in Marietta."
Lemasters, who shared letters from local third-grade supporters of the museums with the Senate committee, said she remembers every lesson she learned as a student visiting the Campus Martius museum.
"I don't want the younger generations to miss out on that," she said. "You can build more malls and shopping centers but you can't remake history. You have to keep it here."