The Verendrye Museum will have a home in the City of Fort Pierre old American Legion building on Deadwood Street for at least another 30 years.
The city council approved the lease at its regular meeting on Monday. The approval came after deliberations that included an offer from the museum to contribute $100,000 towards renovations of the building – to be handled in a separate memorandum of understanding – and an anonymous donation that will restart a tuckpointing project that had previously been put on hold.
Not included in the final lease agreement is the outdoor space that will be created from the demolition of the American Legion Clubhouse, which is separate from the museum building. That was one of a few changes from earlier drafts of the lease that the council had seen.
The main building was constructed in 1933, and last fall was added to the register National Register of Historic Places.
The clubhouse is about 16 feet wide and 55 feet deep. It’s planned to be demolished – and there'd been talk of the museum's possible use of the resulting space between the museum and Westside Paint and Body as an outdoor display area. But the museum board decided it wanted to exclude the area from the lease.
The future of the space resulting from the clubhouse demolition was the issue that caused the council to table a vote at its second February meeting on a longer-term lease for the building, which has housed the museum since 1968.
As the museum board president, Randy Seiler, put it at Monday's meeting, "Fifty years is nothing to sneeze at." Seiler and several board members attended the council meeting.
Since its first meeting of the year, the council has been working on the topic of changing the existing month-to-month arrangement to something longer. A task force of three city members and three museum board members has been working to hammer out the final terms.
Highlights of the new lease include a 30-year term, with automatic renewals in 10-year increments. The city will pay utilities – at least initially. The lease mentions a "reasonable effort" at the museum's financial self-sufficiency with the idea the museum could assume responsibility for utility payments.
Under the approved lease, no rent will be paid by the museum. Routine maintenance and minor repairs will be the responsibility of the museum. And if the museum wants the city to do work, like maintenance or repairs, the museum has to go through the city’s work order system and purchase order process.
Another change from some initial drafts is the elimination of the re-building of the rear addition on the back of the building. The final agreement just says the rear addition will be removed – but doesn't say it will be replaced.
An additional change indicated in final version was the elimination of the requirement that the city provide garbage pick-up and public restroom maintenance and cleaning. In the final version, the city just provides a location for garbage disposal.
In his presentation to the council, Seiler highlighted Paragraph IV of the lease agreement, which says that the city and the museum "agree that the premises shall be refurbished, remodeled, and upgraded to include tuckpointing, new windows, insulation, heating and air conditioning system, ..."
Seiler told the council on Monday the museum board was prepared to pay $100,000 towards the rehabilitation – but added the sum was the extent of the commitment the board was able to make. He also urged that the issue be handled in a memorandum of understanding (MOU), separately from the lease agreement. And that’s the path the council is following.
Councilmember David LaRoche, when he made the motion to approve the lease, volunteered to continue his service on the lease task force on the effort to hash through the MOU.
The city and the museum have been working to find funding for rehabilitation of the historic structure, but were confronted with a setback in mid-March. The low bid for the exterior tuckpointing work came back at $72,700, which was around the $75,000 Director of Public Works Rick Hahn had previously ball-parked.
But a Deadwood Grant the city received was awarded for just half the requested amount. Instead of $25,000 from the Deadwood Grant, the city received $12,500. Deadwood Grants are funded by a portion of the gambling revenue generated in Deadwood, South Dakota.
The city and the museum had agreed to contribute $25,000 apiece, so the the diminished grant award left the city with $62,500 in available funding, instead of the $75,000 that was anticipated. So at the mid-March meeting the council voted to reject all bids for the tuckpointing work and was looking at reduced scope in the project. The council seemed ready to accept that the building renovations would need to take place over a significant span of time.
However, on Monday Hahn told the council that an anonymous donor had stepped forward to make up the shortfall for the tuckpointing work, so the complete project could be done this year. He said he needed to check with the city attorney about the need to re-start the bidding process, but said the two low bidders previously were still interested in the work.
The idea of not drawing out the renovations over time was touched on by Seiler, when he revealed the museum board's willingness to put up $100,000. The timeframe for the renovations – which are needed to protect the artifacts housed in the museum – should "obviously sooner rather than later, not 25, or 10 or five years," Seiler said.
The museum's $100,000 is significant, but Seiler put the total cost of the renovations at somewhere between $400,000 and $700,000, based on some previous conversations.