Historical society not alone in seeking help
Other nearby groups receive financial aid from municipalities
Raising funds privately to preserve historic properties is a challenge faced by many area historical societies.
For the Elmbrook Historical Society, relying solely on private dollars to maintain the 2.5-acre Dousman Stagecoach Inn property it leases from Brookfield has become such a burden that the organization is asking the city for some financial help.
Since the eight buildings on the site, located along Pilgrim Parkway, opened to the public in 1990, the society has handled all maintenance, landscaping and repairs without funding from city, state or federal government. The only exception is the maintenance of the grass and gravel parking lot, which is handled by the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
The annual operating cost for the historic property is about $27,000, while capital expenditures range from $5,000 to $25,000 per year.
Now, city and society officials are negotiating an updated lease agreement in which the society could request capital funding from the city, just as any other city department does during the annual budget process, to help cover ongoing capital improvements, restoration and repairs.
The society earlier this year asked the city if it would consider helping with some maintenance costs, including the potential replacement of flooring and the porch of the Dousman Stagecoach Inn, which was built in 1842.
Work could cost $100,000
The society began discussing the issue with the Parks and Recreation Commission in June 2008. That August, the city's Inspection Services Department toured the Dousman Inn to identify future maintenance needs. The department found areas in need of maintenance include the building's dining room floor, first-story deck and chimney caps.
The society estimates it will need to raise about $100,000 for restoration work to be completed within the next three years.
"Ultimately, the buildings are owned by the city, so there's an investment there," Parks and Recreation Director Bill Kolstad said. "What the lease agreement hopefully does is provide an extension of the relationship to continue providing services in the community."A survey of Menomonee Falls, New Berlin, Wauwatosa and West Allis shows that other communities' level of financial support for their historical societies varies widely.
Like the Elmbrook Historical Society, the Menomonee Falls, New Berlin and West Allis societies also lease buildings from their respective municipalities, and rely on the municipalities to provide grounds maintenance and landscaping, as well as insure the properties.
Other groups get assistance
Unlike Elmbrook, those three historical societies also receive financial assistance for the maintenance and utilities of the buildings. West Allis and New Berlin receive assistance with restoration projects as well.
In Menomonee Falls, the village will designate about $10,000 for capital improvements and repairs to historical society buildings in 2010, which is on par with funds received in previous years, said Jeff Steliga, society treasurer.
The Menomonee Falls Historical Society also raises funds privately for similar types of projects, "but sometimes governments have to step in where private citizens can't," he added.
The cities of New Berlin and West Allis also are accustomed to stepping in for their historical societies, although they have no formal process for requesting capital funding.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Wauwatosa Historical Society, which is independent from the city.
"Basically, anything we want to do with improvements to the buildings, we are fundraising ourselves," said society President Janel Ruzicka. "Then again, we own the building. It's not owned by the city."
The society also operates and maintains the city-owned Little Red Store building, which it collaborated with the city to restore.
The organization estimates it will have to raise about $200,000 for roof repairs and a new sprinkler system and fencing in the next five to 10 years.
Setting a precedent
As for the Elmbrook Historical Society, Robert Scott, finance director for the city of Brookfield, said there are no immediate capital improvement needs, but updating the lease agreement now will establish the framework for future requests.
Sheila Christiansen, Elmbrook Historical Society president, declined to comment on the issue.
Prior to being approved by the Common Council, the agreement will have to be reviewed by the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Finance Committee.
Kolstad expects negotiations with the society to continue for the next few months. If approved, the new lease agreement would be effective for 10 years. The current contract runs through 2012.
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