There’s More To The Story About The City And The Children’s Museum…

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Children's Museum

Move along. Nothing to see here…

What else is one supposed to glean from the Tribune’s coverage of the City’s relationship with the Children’s Museum of Montana? The City isn’t evicting the museum, they would never do that, and angsty, misinformed residents are spewing “alternative facts” on social media, etc.

But doesn’t it seem like there’s more to this story? Here’s the lede from the Trib:

The Children’s Museum of Montana and the city of Great Falls are in discussion about the museum’s plans for the future, and the city is considering converting the site into an office building if the move makes sense for both parties.

From this, one presumes that the Children’s Museum might inexplicably abandon its well-furnished home of 18 years, and not attempt to renew its very generous lease of $1/year, which expires in 2018. (How, then, would moving make sense for both parties?) Or, one could surmise that the City plans to raise the rent, and effectively serve the museum — not now, but next year — a de facto eviction notice. So, which is it?

Highlighting to readers what the museum wants out of the deal seems to be such a fundamental element to the story, yet this information is nowhere to be found in the Tribune. Instead, it is teased and suggested that, actually, maybe the museum wants out of its (also unreported) $1/year lease with the City. Children’s Museum of Montana Executive Director Sandie Edwards told E-City Beat, emphatically, “We want to stay.”

In the Trib’s article, Mayor Bob Kelly said the City was just wondering if the museum had gotten too big to operate in its existing home.

Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly said, ‘It would be silly to start a big construction project if the museum comes to us when the lease expires in ’18 and says they’ve outgrown the space. We’re merely having the conversation to see if they want to go somewhere else.’

Fair enough. They don’t want to go somewhere else, though, and according to Edwards, “We do not need more space (as reported by KFBB). We rock the space we have and constantly change out the exhibits to bring new life down there for the visitors.”

(First, who told KFBB the Children’s Museum needs more space? Not the museum’s Executive Director. Second, it’s reasonable that the City wants to “[have] a conversation” about the museum’s intentions. But doesn’t it sound like this should make for an extremely brief discussion? They want to stay. Third, just how big is this “big construction project” Kelly mentions? The Children’s Museum is huge. How many new employees does the City plan on hiring? Enough to fill the museum? To what extent does the City intend to grow local government?)

To his credit, Kelly pledged to stand with the Children’s Museum.

Kelly’s wife, Sheila, was one of the Children’s Museum of Montana’s founding board members and served as president for several years.

‘We have no intention whatsoever to remove them from the space,’ Kelly said. ‘I wouldn’t be able to go home if those lines were crossed.’

So if the City has “no intention whatsoever” of displacing the Children’s Museum, and if the museum isn’t currently facing eviction (as the Trib’s headline screams), then why was there so much outcry and “misinformation” on Facebook in the first place? Are these museum-backers just a bunch of cranks? Not exactly. The City has been openly, albeit quietly, eyeing the museum, at a minimum, since the Jan. 3, 2017 work session, although it’s not an idea City Commissioner Bill Bronson supports:

With regard to space utilization, Commissioner Bronson commented that he would like more information and data. He expressed opposition with regard to doing additions to the Civic Centers, and utilizing the Children’s Museum. He expressed support with regard to maintaining a campus environment. Commissioner Bronson commented that all alternatives need to be looked at by the Mansfield Center for utilizing other aspects of the Civic Center. He requested more information before making a final decision.

So, what triggered the alarm bells? If both Kelly and Bronson oppose utilizing the Children’s Museum, then which elected official thinks it’s actually a good idea to gut the museum for office space for City staff? This doesn’t sound like the machinations of Bob Jones or Fred Burow. According to Edwards, that official is City Commissioner Tracy Houck, who is also the Executive Director of the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. Now why would a fellow museum director want to drive out the CMOM?

Edwards met with Houck and City Manager Greg Doyon on Jan. 12. “[Doyon] told me this was Tracy’s idea. He has been wonderful to work with and is super positive about the future of the museum,” Edwards said.

Houck did not respond to emails sent to both her City and personal email accounts seeking comment.

Edwards will meet with Kelly and Doyon on March 6 to further discuss the issue. “The City has always supported the museum. We look forward to working with them in the future. Bob Kelly has also been hugely supportive of the museum over the years. I’m looking forward to meeting with him in March, as well,” Edwards said.

What is the purpose of this subsequent meeting? The positions from both sides are clear. The folks who run the Children’s Museum want the organization to stay where it is, and it should stay where it is. It is a Great Falls treasure, one which proudly served over 70,000 people in 2016, including many low-income families. The museum has used over $2 million donated dollars to elevate itself to what, and where, it is today. The mayor’s words, while encouraging, now require action. Kelly says he won’t cross “those lines,” so why not put it in writing? At this point, the only reason the City should meet with Edwards and her board is to show them, not tell them, how important their organization is, and to extend the lease for the Children’s Museum of Montana, just as it is now.

24 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been there and really fail to see why a indoor play park counts as a museum. (The Charlie Russel museum is a museum) That’s all it is just various themed play areas and an over priced snackbar like a elcheapo chuckie cheese. Nothing really educational in the place.

    • Would you like to try the Children’s Museum of Montana again? Have you been there? Pretty much everything at the snack bar is $.50. What does the museum provide? They provide a safe, warm learning environment to children regardless of their economic status. Children learn through play. The interactive exhibits provide this environment for all the children of Great Falls and surrounding areas.

      • One single parent took her three children there and was denied entry because she did not have the $5.00 per person entry fee, so the socioecnomic factor mentioned in the previous post, I find hard to believe.

        • They have to apply for a scholarship. You can’t just show up at the door expecting a handout any more than you can go to a grocery store for free food without going through WIC or a welfare office first. People would abuse it.

    • If you think it’s not educational, then I can certainly see that you do not have a degree in education, early childhood development, psychology, or anything medical. Children need to experience as many different situations as possible while young in order to reach their full potential. Children’s museums are excellent at providing that for young children’s minds to thrive on. Chuck-E-Cheese is more likely to cause a future addiction to video games, gambling, and junk food as well as a tendency to “break the bank”. There’s certainly a difference. Children’s museums do none of that.

      As for the Charlie Russel Museum, it’s no more for children than the children’s museum is for you. my children were entirely bored with it. Even the Lewis and Clark Museum is only interesting t my children during their annual celebration. Museums come in all shapes and sizes to best fit the needs of people of all ages and tastes.

      museum – a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, OR cultural interest are stored and exhibited.

      I can easily see it fitting all of those categories.

    • Remember, the youth of todqy are our future. It is essential for our children and grandchildren to experience different things to become a productive member of society. That doesn’t include the political offices that some day will have to fill, the buisisness’ they will own. We live in a town where we are lucky to have something like this. For those who don’t thinks it is educational, I say you have either not been there or definately did no pay attention. So I say shame on you!

  2. Here’s my FB comment and goes to the full context of ‘why’ the museum is ‘in the sights’ of the city’s expansion: The City of Great Falls should re-examine its real need for more bureacracy and build out under-utilized space INSIDE the Civic Center without taking out the Gibson Room. Also, it seems the city manager wants to perhaps quadruple the legal dept, which was Mr. Gliko and an asst. ten years ago when we were embroiled in the ECP/HIghwood Debacle and even in 2009-2010 the city manager went without ANY city attorney which left the city in a very exposed and weak position where the city was sucked into an 85 million dollars Prudential mortage for the failed SME gas plant east of town, and so where was the vetting and concern for legal oversight then??

  3. There’s so much to say about this but I’ll just begin with this:

    The notion that Tracy Houck has her hands in setting, directing or coordinating city policy in any area whatsoever should be troubling to every citizen in Great Falls.

    Houck has demonstrated that she is more than willing to lie, cheat and commit fraud in order to benefit her own agenda at the expense of the public good.

    As a brief reminder:
    Houck intentionally and repeatedly cheated on her campaign finances and was found guilty of violating the MT Campaign Practices Act.

    Houck repeatedly and intentionally lied to the public about her illegal activities in a cynical attempt to avoid accountability both before and after the original complaint was filed.

    Houck submitted fraudulent, backdated documents to the state COPP, and lied to that office repeatedly in order to avoid accountability for her dishonest and unethical behavior.

    Houck attempted to deposit leftover campaign contributions in the PGS account, her employer, but was prevented from doing so by the COPP presumably.

    Houcks extremely shady and dishonest behavior will continue to impact every citizen in Great Falls because, aided by her little pals at the Great Falls Tribune and KRTV Great Falls, she has never been held to account or taken ANY personal responsibility. She and the local media continue to allow the impression that her reckless and unethical lies are all about clerical error or innocent oversight.

    These are facts proven by the public record and obtained through a citizens public records request, they are not simply my opinion.

    That Mayor Kelly would entrust Houck or “task” her with any responsibility beyond coming clean with the citizens of my hometown is a further reflection of his extremely poor judgement.

      • I’m not trying to help myself “in any manner whatsoever”, Rick. I’ve never thought it wrong or a mistake to call a spade a spade or remind the public of a proven dishonest, unethical public official. The horse will only die when there is accountability and responsibility taken by Houck. Until then the horse continues to trample over honesty and integrity.

  4. I believe the city has no intent of moving into the Children’s Museum space. I would not be surprised if they are using the Children’s Museum as a pawn in their game. Here’s how it goes.

    State the problem:
    The city develops a need–more office space. In the January 3 work session meeting minutes, City Manager Doyon reported that “the impact of Marsy’s Law will fundamentally change the operation of the legal department.” So the city alludes that they may need more legal administrative staff and therefore more office space. It takes a lot more staff and office space to reach out to victims, doesn’t it?

    State the potential solution:
    Doyon also stated that ” using existing Civic Center space has the least amount of impact.” Also Architect Ryan Smith chimed in, “Historically the Gibson room was once utilized as office space for the legal department.” City Attorney Sexe stated that “it is dysfunctional trying to supervise the prosecutor’s office since it is separated from the civil department.” Offices in two separate places is not desirable according to Sexe. Looks like Gibson Room might be a winner.

    Point out problems with the potential solution:
    Commission Houck’s very good friend, Paris Gibson Square employee and Mansfield Theatre Advisory Board member Keern Haslem attended the work session and opined that if the Gibson Room were renovated for offices, “the auspicious view of Great Falls would be lost when the public passes through during performances and events.” Yep, that can’t happen.

    At least Mansfield Center Supervisor Dona Hughes made some valid points at the work session about the Gibson Room being utilized for mid-sized conferences and events. Okay, so now the Gibson Room is out.

    Next the solution that was never really a solution:
    Make it look like the city is interested in moving into the Children’s Museum space. However, the city folks were well aware of the public outcry that would cause, indeed is already causing. They can use that to justify their hidden solution, the SWITCHAROO SOLUTION….wait for it….

    A BRAND-SPANKING NEW CITY ADMINISTRATIVE BUILDING! They’ve already argued the need for more space and will continue to; they’ve put forward arguments against using the Gibson Room and they’ve used the public to argue for them against using the Children’s Museum space. Woe is me, what else are they to do? Guess who would pay for it.

    Sounds far-fetched? Perhaps…. but I smell some rotting fish somewhere in this “Denmark.”

    • Dona Hughes is making strong effort with architect to find an innovative solution within the Civic Center that would be cost-effective and avoid compromising the Gibson Room, which is the preferred location for the city commission’s work session in their own words.

      • I don’t doubt that Dona Hughes is willing to work on a solution within the Civic Center that doesn’t involve the Gibson Room. In my dealings with her, she has been reasonable and cooperative.

        However, she isn’t the only party involved and other interested parties may not be as willing to compromise.

  5. Kelly, of course the Museum doesn’t want to leave. Why buy the cow when you’re getting the milk for free? Seriously…… Every non-profit in town would wet their pants if they could get a deal like this. $1 a year? seriously? And our landlord gives us grant money to make our place great? Granted, I work for a local non-profit and I have certain thoughts and feelings because of that but why shouldn’t the Children’s Museum scrap for every dollar like we do? If the Children’s Museum is that important to the community then the community should step up and support it.

  6. The children’s museum should move. The city should procure the old Washington School Bld (on 10th street and 1st ave north) and lease it to the museum for that same buck. (Can probably pick that up for 250K). Centrally located, tons more parking, way better access/logistics, larger – will house more programs.

    If the city wants to move attorneys into that old space, let them move — they won’t have to change the name on the door.

  7. I think Jenni maybe onto something the city needs to fix the civic center , needs more office space oh don’t forget the talk earlier of a new fire station . We can add all this up and we can see where this is all going. Thankfully we have this site otherwise the tribune would never get this info out to the people of great falls until it was all over and done with. I can see a big levey coming down the road and it will get railroaded in somehow. There was a good reason why Kelly, Houck and Bronson all ran together we will see it unfold before long .

  8. Hold up fellas !! there is another option !!! Several years ago (6 years) the old Montana Power building right across Park Drive –to the North East side of Central Ave. I believe it was for the taking or at least minimal cost to the city !! That offer was rejected because of the cost to repair and retro fit. This building made sense then and still does today. Cost to upgrade and retro fit would be less than a new structure, there would be plenty of room and accessible to the current Civic Center building. A sky bridge similar to that of the DA Davidson building would give direct travel between the two buildings with going outside. If the offer is still available why not give serious thought and consideration to expanding the city campus in that direction? Just my thoughts , nothing more ! But worth a look see, don’t ya think ?

  9. This certainly is a healthy conversation, with solutions that need to be considered. Options exist within the Civic Center. Dona can attest to that. The sky bridge Mr. Winters discussed makes a great deal of sense as well. As virtually any long-standing resident of Great Falls will attest Central Avenue once was THE bastion of activity (and with the changing look of 10th Avenu South could be again).

  10. […] In the last few days, a rumor began circulating that the Children’s Museum of Montana was being “evicted” from its location, and Tryon and some like-minded people are spouting vague conspiracy theories and near-accusations of corruption over at E-City Beat. […]

  11. Sounds like the City has an interesting Architectural problem. Why not hold an Architectural competition like grown up cities do to find the most creative and cost effective solution? Something the School District should have done for their $98M worth of projects. Of course a competition would have to be juried by a committee of disassociated architects and engineers preferably from outside of Montana.

    • Good idea Philip, but I’ve found that in Great Falls, good ideas are ONLY embraced if the “right” party proposes them.

      Years ago, when Butte announced they were hosting the National Folk Festival, I contacted organizers in Butte to find out how they managed to get a highly-regarded, national event to come to Butte. Their involvement in the Main Street America program was the reason most cited. I brought the idea of Great Falls getting involved in the Main Street America program to various Great Falls advisory groups and a city commission meeting, but the city manager and mayor dismissed it immediately and let me know that they thought it was a worthless idea to pursue.

      Years later, the city embraced the Main Street America program through involvement in Montana Main Street, because the “right” party proposed it. Through it, Great Falls has received at least one grant that I know of for downtown revitalization and other valuable guidance. Certainly a slap in the face to me, since I proposed it years earlier only to be slapped down then. So you see, only certain people’s ideas can get through to the city. My experience over the years has proven to me that the Great Falls city government leaders don’t welcome public involvement from an “outsider” like me.

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