Museum of woes
The Grand Valley’s museum network, Museum of Western Colorado, is at risk of becoming a sad entry in the history books.
Museum officials and the group’s board of directors are hesitant to speak of the dire needs at the network’s four locations, for fear of seeming to be constantly asking for funds.
It’s clear that improvements cannot wait much longer.
In 2009, after Mesa County commissioners cut the annual budget by 25 percent, or $125,000, the Museum of Western Colorado placed on hold a host of maintenance projects. Commissioners currently are debating whether to further cut the agency’s $375,000 allocation by 5 percent in 2014, an additional $18,750 hit. Museum officials maintain that they shouldn’t have to ask for money each year, as voters agreed the agency should be funded by a single mill, a tax the county collects. However, in the 1990s, county commissioners at the time argued the language read the museum could be funded at a rate of up to one mill, and from then, allocated commissioners funds at their discretion.
Though a 5-percent cut seems trivial, museum officials question how they could keep the doors open with further cutbacks.
“We don’t have any other place to cut,” museum board President Ted Okey said. “That’s what I view as sad. If you lose the history of your community, you will never get it back. If we have to close our doors, the nearest accredited museum in Durango has the right to acquire all of our collections.”
For starters, roofs leak on all four of the buildings operated by the Museum of Western Colorado.
They include Museum of the West, 462 Ute Ave.; the Whitman Educational Center, which is next door at 248 S. Fourth St.; Dinosaur Journey, 550 Jurassic Court in Fruita and Cross Orchards Historic Site, 3073 F Road.
Electrical wiring is antiquated and dangerous at some locations and boilers are becoming unsafe.
In an effort to bring in more revenue, the museum’s most popular location, Dinosaur Journey, has been offering the nearly sold-out dinosaur digs, targeted to children and families.
While the program is heralded as a success, Okey worries that the intent of having a museum is getting lost, as scientist John Foster is tasked with acting as program leader instead of having time to catalog rare dinosaur finds.
“I would guess we’re six months to a year behind because there’s no one to do it,” Okey said.
One bright spot in the future of Dinosaur Journey may be the willingness of Fruita city councilors to continue to partner with the museum. Fruita funds Dinosaur Journey from $5,000 to $10,000 a year for operations. Councilors had agreed to reduced rent for the building, which may help the museum pay off the lease faster.
With Fruita as the owner of the building, the Museum of Western Colorado is out of the loop to receive grants to update the facility.
Fruita councilors are working out their 2014 budget and have indicated they may contribute more funds next year, Fruita City Manager Clint Kinney said.
“We want to be as supportive as possible,” Kinney said. “We know that they’re a great anchor for us on the south side of our community.”
Peter Booth, executive director of the Museum of Western Colorado, recently met with Fruita councilors and requested $32,300 for immediate capital needs, including repairs. Needs include replacement stucco to stem a leak on the north and east wall; replacing loading doors with ones that provide insulation; changing out the walnut shells in the kids quarry to rubber pellets; and an additional storage shed to house dinosaur fossils.
Better signage is needed in Grand Junction and in Fruita to direct traffic to the museums, Booth said.
Of all facilities, Dinosaur Journey attracts the most visitors, and about 80 percent of them are from outside of the Grand Valley, mainly lured from Interstate 70. About 3,000 students visit that site each year.
Museum of the West attracts 1,800 students and about 1,000 students a year visit Cross Orchards, Booth said.
After museum officials spoke with Grand Junction’s city councilors, the city placed a line item on the city’s 2014 budget, however no dollars have been attached to it.
Booth said he wants residents to see the museum system as the economic driver it is. A recent study by the business department at Colorado Mesa University shows that plenty of well-heeled, educated families visit local museums while taking in other highlights. In addition, the museum links the past to the future.
“What’s the value of having a museum? Who cares?” Booth said. “The mission of what we’re doing is extremely valuable. It tells us who we are and where we came from.”