Monday, February 08, 2016

Plans to Reopen State Museum Ignore Region

The director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says the Illinois State Museum could reopen in a matter of weeks if lawmakers approve Gov. Bruce Rauner's amendatory veto of Senate Bill 317 sent to the governor last December. The General Assembly passed the legislation requiring the governor to reopen and operate the museum and its branch sites at Dickson Mounds, Freeport, Rend Lake and Chicago.

The amendatory veto replaced the list of branch sites to reopen with the language, "branch sites determined by the Department of Natural Resources in collaboration with local units of government and other public and private entities."

That would mean the addition sites Southern Illinois Art & Artisans Center at Rend Lake wouldn't automatically reopen, just the Springfield one. Apparently it would require some local partnerships to guarantee the Southern Illinois facility's future.

Rauner also added a sentence that authorizes DNR and the Board of the Illinois State Museum to "solicit the assistance of the Illinois State Museum Society to fundraise non-State resources for the museum and to provide operational assistance to the museum."

Currently the non-profit group just operates the bookstore and handles a few research issues. This would be a major change for the entity, but one that has been needed for some time.

The governor's third change would deal with admission fees. The legislation authorized the department to charge a fee, but one set by administrative rule, a time-consuming process. Rauner's change would allow the agency director to not only set the fee, but also allow different fees for different classes of visitors, such as a cheaper rate for students or groups.

DNR Director Wayne Rosenthal spoke to reporters about the change today.
Rosenthal said no decision has been made about the size of the admission fees, but Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said he thought a fee of $5 for adults was reasonable. Rosenthal said that would put Illinois in line with surrounding states that charge admission fees to their state museums.

Rosenthal also said that going forward, the museum would work in partnership with private organizations to raise addition funds for the museum. He said there is no target amount for how much must be raised between the admission fees and private donations.

The museum and related facilities around the state closed in September because of the state’s budget crunch. However, unionized state employees there have remained on the job because of a pending lawsuit in St. Clair County challenging layoffs of state workers.

As part of the agreement to reopen the museum, Rosenthal said facilities in Chicago and Rend Lake would close — saving the state about $1 million.

Apparently there's been no progress about finding partnerships in Southern Illinois. That's a shame. It's time for the Rend Lake Conservancy District, DNR and Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in Mount Vernon to step up to the plate.