2009-03-04 / Front Page

Historical sites could be closed

By Jim McConnell

Photo courtesy of Chesterfield County If proposed budget cuts are approved, Magnolia Grange would be open by appointment only.
Barring changes to Chesterfield County's fiscal year 2010 budget, the slumping economy will claim two more victims.

Included among the nearly half-million dollars in budget cuts proposed for the county's parks and recreation department is funding for part-time staff positions at Magnolia Grange and the Chesterfield County Museum.

Between salaries and benefits, eliminating the jobs will save the county approximately $36,000, according to Parks and Recreation Director Mike Golden. It also will most likely force the county to make the historic sites available for use only on a by-appointment basis.

That's not good enough for the Chesterfield Historical Society, whose 600 members believe limiting access to the buildings will cost the county a valuable link to its heritage while providing a relatively insignificant cost savings in a multimillion dollar budget.

"We know it's a difficult economic situation. It seems like every day there's more bad news about the economy," said Peter Lipowicz, president of the Chesterfield Historical Society. "It's not a surprise because we expected the county to trim its budget, but these cuts will effectively close the only two museums in the county. That can have a very negative impact on the cultural resources of the county."

Magnolia Grange is a Virginia Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1822, it is a Federalstyle plantation house named after the magnolia trees once planted in its front yard.

The Chesterfield Museum is a reproduction of the colonial courthouse of 1750. Its collections trace the history of Chesterfield County from prehistoric times through the 20th century.

Magnolia Grange and the County Museum currently are open to the public for six hours Tuesdays through Fridays and four hours on Saturdays. While Golden noted that the buildings won't be closed permanently, he said there simply isn't enough money in the proposed budget to keep them open five days a week.

"Somehow, somewhere, we had to come up with that dollar figure," he added, referring to his department's anticipated $490,000 budget reduction.

Increased parks and recreation program fees are expected to defray about one-third of that total. Other part-time positions also are slated for elimination, meaning the department will rely heavily on volunteer labor to fulfill tasks such as gym supervision and field maintenance.

Golden suggested volunteers could be a solution to the manpower shortage at the historical sites. Lipowicz wouldn't rule out such an arrangement, but said his organization's primary goal is finding "some way to avert these budget cuts."

To that end, the historical society is circulating a petition it hopes will convince Chesterfield supervisors to maintain the current level of funding for Magnolia Grange and the County Museum. Every member of the historical society already has signed the petition, Lipowicz said.

"We're 100 percent against these cuts," he added. "We've received a lot of feedback from people who are concerned, and hopefully we can get everybody behind [the petition]."

It remains to be seen whether the historical society could land enough financial support to fund the two part-time staff positions. A private, 501-c3 charity, the historical society generates revenue through three main avenues: donations, grants and membership dues.

"We certainly want to talk with the county about different options," Lipowicz said. "Some funding on our part is something we're willing to talk about, but raising money in diffi cult economic times is just as difficult for us as it is for everyone else."

Golden met last week with the historical society's executive board. It was an opportunity for both sides to keep open lines of communication and seek a mutually beneficial remedy to a difficult problem.

"Obviously there's some heartburn there, and I understand that," Golden said, "but it's still a friendly conversation."

The board of supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the budget on March 25 at 6:30 p.m. in the public meeting room, 10001 Iron Bridge Road. Supervisors are expected to approve the budget on April 15.

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