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History center says it may have to close

The Wheaton History Center may close if the city council doesn’t reconsider its decision to end a contract with the facility, some residents and historic preservationists say. 

“We are at the ninth hour,” said Alberta Adamson, president and CEO of the center. “If we can’t get some financial support, we are going to have to close the doors.”

Run by the Wheaton Historic Preservation Council, the center operates out of two locations – 606 N. Main St., which houses the museum and archives, and 315 W. Front St., which serves as the main offices and storage space. 

Since 1993 the city has had a contract with the center to help promote and preserve Wheaton’s history. That was not renewed during the 2009-10 budget cycle, leaving the center to rely on donations, grants and fundraisers for its annual budget of about $350,000, Adamson said.

The city gave the center $225,000 or about half of its budget in 2008-09. When the center’s contract was not renewed, it reduced its expenses by more than $100,000. 

During Monday’s city council meeting, supporters argued that preserving Wheaton’s history is a vital service that requires the financial support of the city.  

“With a little operation like this, it is doing such a doggone good and I would hate to see it come to an end,” said resident Lewis Morgan.

Councilman Todd Scalzo suggested reducing the city’s contribution rather than cutting it altogether. Still, any such discussion is not likely to occur until the next budget cycle, which he recognizes may be too late to help the center stay afloat.

 “I think the preservation of Wheaton’s history is a core function of our city to our community,” he said.

Councilman Phil Suess said the city has paid more than $3 million to the center over the years.

 “What do we have to show for it? All they did was take on a lot of debt,” he said.

The historic preservation council sold property last December on Naperville Road that was going to be converted into a museum in order to pay down its debt and cover core expenditures such as payroll and insurance costs.

It also was used to help convert the second floor of the city’s former fire station into a museum and the center’s current offices on Front Street.

But as finances continued to dwindle, Adamson cut her payroll to herself and one part-time employee.

 “We have a dedicated organization,” Adamson said. “If you want to call staff working for nothing mismanagement, then so be it. We did the best we could under the circumstances.”

 Should the city not reconsider funding, she said the center will close later this year. There’s no plan for where the museum artifacts and archived materials would be housed, she said.

  Suess said the city needs to have more oversight when allocating dollars to private entities such as the center. Without that control, the city will continue to take on the problems those organizations may run into if they mismanage their spending, he said. 

And considering how financially strapped the city is, reinstating a contract with the center would mean taking money  from a core service.

 “The city isn’t responsible to find out how to fund the history center,” he said. “They are a private entity.”


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