Marine Science Center sinking

POULSBO — A verbal agreement between the North Kitsap School District, City of Poulsbo and the Marine Science Society of the Pacific Northwest (MSSPNW) appears to have gone awry — and hopes to ever re-open the Marine Science Center in Poulsbo may have gone with it.

The school district and city claim they had agreed upon a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the MSSPNW to keep many of the tanks and exhibits at the closed MSC in exchange for the district’s help in moving the science society out of the building.

Instead, the society has liquidated much of its inventory, selling tanks and marine equipment to other museums and organizations. The group has also already indicated to the City of Poulsbo — owners of the facility — that it moved out as of March 31.

“It’s kind of like we made an agreement, and they changed the rules,” said City of Poulsbo Finance Director Nanci Lien.

The apparent plan from the district’s end was to cover MSSPNW’s costs associated with moving out of the center. In exchange, the NKSD would be able to keep the equipment and exhibits necessary to run a museum. With this in mind, the district had requested an inventory listing from the society.

“We’ve seen no list, no inventory, no value,” said NKSD Supt. Gene Medina.

The society announced in February that it was closing the Marine Science Center due to financial constraints. Now, if there is to be a new marine museum in its place, all new resources will be needed.

“We were going to be taking over the saltwater tanks and systems so we could take care of the tanks and critters,” said school board president Catherine Ahl. “And now they’re gone.”

The center is now nearly barren, with only four touch tanks, a perch tank, and a large tank holding a wolf eel still intact. An undersea camera remains, but Patrick Mus, the MSSPNW’s former director of operations at the center, said he was uncertain Wednesday how much longer it would stay.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the camera,” said Mus, who had been working to help the society meet its March 31 deadline of moving out. “But the things that you see here are the ones staying.”

The closure of the MSC has heartbroken the former director, who has been hired temporarily by the district to maintain the operations at the center.

“All the hard work and volunteer labor here is being squandered,” he said. “I’m depressed, I really am.”

“It’s just sad,” added two year MSC volunteer Phil Greene. “This place is gone unless someone decides to come in and help out.”

Mus said he’s not only hugely disappointed, but also shocked as to how the center’s collapse could happen seemingly overnight.

“This took 15 years to build up,” he said. “How did it go down the drain so quickly?”

Mus added: “I hope the school district and the city can get together and open this back up to a museum.”

MSSPNW members said financial straits dictated their closure and explained that funds raised through selling MSC resources will be used toward paying the city $2,000 for two months late rent. Lien said the society also owes the city around $10,000 aside from the rent.

“We loved it here, but we just couldn’t make it,” said Brad Allen, MSSPNW treasurer. “I don’t think it’s impossible here but we’ve never solved the problem of how to make this a sustainable business.”

He added the society was unwilling to go into debt for the struggling center, and due to its February closing and subsequent liquidation, it should be able to avoid it.

“We’re not allowing ourselves to go into the red,” Allen commented. “Right now, it looks like we’ll be able to cover everything that’s there.”

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