Community leaders discuss MSC’s future

POULSBO — The sheer number of North Kitsap’s influential leaders in attendance at a forum on the future of the Marine Science Center prompted North Kitsap School District Supt. Gene Medina to exclaim that, “If something happened in this room tonight, this community would be in real trouble.”

He had a point: almost 60 people, including county and city administrators and council members, North Kitsap School Board directors, tribal and legislative representatives, area business owners, organization leaders and residents turned up at the MSC Tuesday to weigh in on the future of an ailing science center.

Medina, with help from Kathleen Byrne-Barrantes, president of the Liberty Bay Foundation and professional grant writer, and facilitator Lary Coppola, chairman of the Kitsap Economic Development Council, explained the dire situation the MSC faces to the legion of leaders.

Medina informed the crowd that neither the city nor school district could afford a public marine science center and the only chance of re-opening such a place would require a variety of entities.

“The genesis needs to come from this community,” he said.

The result of the meeting was the formation of a new, impromptu committee to help steward the MSC’s future and a commitment from those in attendance to keep the dialogue alive.

The five members who volunteered for the committee were Byrne-Barrantes, Dan Delaney, school board member and waterfront property owner; John Colby, community member and aquarium and marine specialist; Bill Austin, founder of the Bight of Poulsbo; and Mike Scott, a past president of the Poulsbo/North Kitsap Rotary and current Rotary Club Chair on the environment.

Added to that committee was Kathryn Quade, Poulsbo City Council-member; and unnamed representatives from the county and the Suquamish and S’Klallam tribes.

The crisis of the MSC began publicly in February when the Marine Science Society of the Pacific Northwest, former care-takers of the facility, announced that they could no longer afford the center and would be moving out by the end of March. The proceeded in selling many MSC exhibits to pay off debts to the city. The school district, which is enduring its own tight fiscal belt, then told the city, which owns the building, that it couldn’t continue there without other outside financial partnerships.

On several pieces of paper, Medina had outlined several questions and concerns of the MSC’s future, summed up best by one statement alone: “Can we maintain, preserve and enhance the Marine Science Center. If so, how?”

The night after the meeting took place, a $10,000 feasibility study, paid for jointly by the North Kitsap School District and City of Poulsbo, and produced by Jim Kolb, was released (see gray box).

The Tuesday night brainstorming session among area leaders brought forth many ideas, but many of the participants were not aware of the limitations of the center’s used, such as the requirement that it must be dedicated to marine science purposes until the bond — currently about $204,000 — is paid.

“There are bond covenants that are very specific here,” said Ben Holland, Kitsap County Director of Administrative Services.

Financial numbers weren’t known by many in attendance, either.

“This is a good kick off,” Poulsbo City Council member Mike Regis said. “But it seems were asking a lot more questions.”

Representative Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) said she had attempted to secure funds from the legislature for the MSC this year, but to no avail. She vowed to return to Olympia next January and try again.

Scott challenged community organizations from Rotary to the Clearwater Casino, as well as everyone in the room to “pony up,” for the center’s future.

Tom Hall, Director of Central Market, spoke for one group of brainstormers who agreed that partnerships were the means for future success.

“I personally think that partnering up this facility is a win-win situation,” Hall said.

Holly Foley, a school district teacher whose classroom was the site of the discussion, made a personal plea to the group of leaders.

“We have impacted this community already,” she said, adding that she sees NKHS alumni often who remember the MSC program. “We need to keep impacting.”

Some 2,300 students in the district attend the center each year, from elementary field trips to high school courses. The school district has already announced it will not be teaching in the facility next school year.

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