Poulsbo Marine Science Foundation offers $15,000 to city upon lease renewal

A visitor takes a hands-on look at creatures in the Poulsbo Marine Science Center aquarium. - Brad Camp/File photo
A visitor takes a hands-on look at creatures in the Poulsbo Marine Science Center aquarium.
— image credit: Brad Camp/File photo

POULSBO — The Poulsbo Marine Science Foundation came to a tentative agreement with the City of Poulsbo, offering $15,000 for building repairs at the Marine Science Center on Front Street so long as its lease in the building is renewed.

The offer came after Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson asked the foundation to help the city with its final debt payment on the building, a $30,000 bill the city paid out of its general fund this month.

The $15,000 would effectively reimburse the city for half the bond payment, though it would technically pay for a portion of repairs to the building's siding. The city is contractually obligated to pay for all building maintenance, according to its lease with the foundation.

Erickson said significant repairs are necessary, including a new heating and cooling system, that over the next three years will cost the city $180,000.
She called the offer from the foundation “generous.”

“I like this. I think this is at least a good start,” Erickson said.

The foundation wants its five-year lease renewed, and Erickson hopes to adjust the terms. She and foundation board president Bruce Harlow will meet over the coming weeks in an effort to come to an agreement regarding the lease, which is up for renewal at the start of next year.

Harlow said the foundation would not make the $15,000 payment if it weren't able to renew its lease. The foundation has secured funding for operations downtown for at least another five years, he said.

“We have the wherewithal and the plan to make it work,” Harlow said. “It's good for the city and good for the businesses.”

The Marine Science Center offers an aquarium for visitors, as well as a classroom and floating lab for visiting school classes. Over the past three years 30,000 people have visited the aquarium, which is funded in large part by rental revenue from a portion of the building. The aquarium typically earns $1,200 in donations per month, but a pipe leak has left it closed since late November. It will likely reopen in April or May, and insurance is covering the cost of repairs.

Erickson said she still doesn't know how the city will pay for the building's new heating and cooling system. It had been making payments on the building from a grant and donation fund set aside for that purpose, but those funds have run dry.

The original $650,000 bond for the building was issued to the Poulsbo Public Development Authority in 1991. It was refinanced in 2002 when the development authority was dissolved and the city took ownership of the debt. Both the city and Kitsap County have made payments over the years, though the city retains ownership of the building.

The North Kitsap School District formerly paid rent to hold classes at the center, but the school district has since moved out. The foundation has not paid rent since reopening the center in 2007. It closed for two years due to lack of funding. Because the building brings no revenue to the city, Erickson said it is difficult to fund.

“While I think everyone supports marine science education, there is a question in my mind if that's a core service of government,” she said.

Her goal is to secure the survival of the center and the viability of the building, she said.

Councilwoman Connie Lord called the marine science center a “gem” and “something we treasure.”
“I would never want to see it go away,” she said.

The Finance and Administration Committee will meet to discuss the issue further March 16.

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