Board OK’s $50,000 to WCHS

Washington County Historical Society Executive Director Brent Peterson presents his request for a $50,000 donation from the county to the historical society during Tuesday’s Board of Commissioner’s meeting. The board approved Peterson’s request on a 3-to-2 vote. The money will be used to match private foundation grants towards buying and renovating a Greeley Avenue building to house WCHS offices, gallery, and archive storage space.

The Washington County Historical Society will receive $50,000 from Washington County to help match other donations toward buying a Greeley Street building that would be a new home for the historical society.

The donation agreement between the county Board of Commissioners and the WCHS passed Tuesday on a 3-to-2 vote with Commissioners Bill Pulkrabek and Autumn Lehrke opposing the request.

WCHS Executive Director Brent Peterson said the society has a purchase agreement for a vacant building in the 1800 block of South Greeley Street and would move its offices and storage from the Warden’s House Museum in downtown Stillwater.

Peterson said the new facility offers space for offices, gallery space and climate-controlled archive space for county records. He reminded commissioners that state law allows the historical society to archive and the society already has county records online.

If the society raises the necessary funds, Peterson said the Greeley Street site could be renovated and opened in 2014. He added that having space for retail sales and hosting traveling historical exhibits would make the Greeley Street site pay for itself.

Peterson’s presentation Tuesday was the second time he told commissioners about the historical society’s plans to buy a new building. He first discussed the idea and mentioned the request for county funds at an August workshop. He reminded the board that buying the Greeley Street site is the society’s first building acquisition in almost 20 years.

“We have not added another building since 1996,” he said. “What we are proposing to do is purchase another building. This will help us do work under the state statute.”

Peterson stressed that the county’s donation would help the society receive private foundation grants by showing the county’s willingness to match private grants.

“There are times when it’s appropriate for the county to step up to the plate,” said Commissioner Gary Kriesel. “This is something where we’ll get something for it.”

County Administrator Molly O’Rourke said the funds requested by the WCHS would go toward buying the building and not archiving future records.

“This allocation is a pledge to buy the building. It does not pay anyone to store records,” she said, adding there is nothing in the pledge saying the county will utilize the WCHS as an archive.

Commissioner Lisa Weik asked Peterson with the historical society had given thought to moving its operations into the Historic County Courthouse in Stillwater.

“In 2006, the historical society looked over our needs. Our needs are for proper storage,” Peterson said. “The Historic Courthouse does not meet our needs. I would leave the two entities alone for now.”

Although Kriesel, Weik and Commissioner Dennis Hegberg supported Peterson’s request, Pulkrabek opposed giving any county funds to the historical society to buy the Greeley Street site.

“We should not hand over $50,000 to the historical society when we’re asking (county administrators) to watch the budget,” he said.

Kriesel, however, said the board must look beyond the money and realize the work the historical society does preserving and promoting the county’s history.

“I wouldn’t classify this as a whim. We get a lot of good will out of that,” he said.