City puts Chandler Museum plans on hold - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

City puts Chandler Museum plans on hold

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Posted: Thursday, October 7, 2010 2:36 pm | Updated: 3:37 pm, Tue Oct 19, 2010.

One walks into the Chandler Museum and quickly realizes that the staff is making the most of what they have.

The 7,300-square foot facility downtown - nestled and almost lost between the city library and a parking garage - has no space for social events or traveling exhibits. The carpet is wearing out.

There are still enough displays and artifacts to make a visit enjoyable and educational, but the Chandler Historical Society has had much more in mind for the museum since it opened as a temporary facility in 1988. Those plans were to become fruition soon but have been delayed, a victim of an economic downturn and declining city finances.

"Obviously, a new facility would give us a lot more opportunity," said Jody Crago, the museum's administrator. "But downtown, they have a budget, and I know that there is a lot they are dealing with."

In July, the city council voted to take funding for design and construction of the museum out of Chandler's capital improvement plan through 2016. That stalled plans calling for a design by December and construction by 2012 of a new museum that voters, in two elections, have approved $12.5 million in bonds for.

Jim Patterson, president of the Chandler Historical Society, met with city officials on Wednesday with designs on a new memorandum of understanding regarding a new museum. The society's board will meet next week to determine what it wants to include in the memorandum.

"I think the communication has started to get better with the city," said Patterson, Chandler's mayor from 1980-84. "Hopefully, and I don't want to sound too idealistic, we can move forward and work it out, because a new museum is of great importance to the city."

Patterson reiterated the society's position that it will no longer contribute $25,000 annually to operate the current museum until plans for a new facility are concrete. The city took over museum operations from the Historical Society in August 2008.

"It's fund-raising problem," Patterson said. "People are not interested in donating money for a non-cause."

A new 20,000-to-25,000-square-foot museum was tabbed for just north of the new $73-million city hall, which opens for operations at Chicago Street and Arizona Avenue later this month.

The funding was approved from votes in 2004 and 2007. Bond debts are repaid through property-tax monies, so a decline in property values results in decreased revenue - and insufficient funds to pay for approved projects.

"If you look at the city's capital program, we have been on a maintenance-only status with a lot of things - streets, park programs," said Mark Eynatten, Chandler community services director. "That's what has hit us. We don't have the ability to sell bonds right now, and the museum is one of the things that has gotten caught up in that."

Eynatten called the meeting with the Historical Society "positive." He hopes that a new memorandum of understanding will be done by the end of January but could not put a timetable on museum design and construction.

Until then, Crago and the rest of the museum staff continue their work, confident that they are providing much more than exhibit space. Asked about the facility's value to Chandler, Crago pointed to a new archives area, where stacks of documents and newspapers are stored.

"Those don't just tell where we've been; they are a look at people who put their shoulders down and ran to make this a great community," Crago said. "We can apply the same principles to the future. How does the city's past shape where we want to go? How do we want to get there? This is a place were people can come and share ideas."

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