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Council seeks ways to keep MSC from sinking

POULSBO — The Marine Science Center’s doors may be closed, but Poulsbo City Council members are seeking ways to pry them open again.

The group discussed those possibilities Wednesday night as they focused on a MSC report by consultant Jim Kolb.

“What I’m hearing is an opportunity does exist for it to rise again from the ashes, so we have an option as a council to float it for six months to a year,” commented Councilwoman Kathryn Quade after listening to Kolb’s presentation.

Kolb was hired by the city and North Kitsap School District to explore the options for the center in April before the Marine Science Society of the Northwest pulled out of the MSC. The school district sent a letter to the city June 24 announcing it would terminate its lease for the building effective Aug. 31.

“My challenge was to explore options for the Marine Science Center and look at the past and look at its present programs,” Kolb told the council. “It really wasn’t to provide recommendations.”

One of the primary reasons the center got into dire straits was the lack of an overall governing body to provide leadership for all the tenants in the building, he explained.

“In the MSC, there needs to be an entity that can provide arbitration for questions that come up,” Kolb continued. “If people had been able to share information it would have been different.”

People can act when they have information, but it’s difficult to act in a reasonable way when the information isn’t there, he said.

For the center return to its former prominence, it must have an organization to provide leadership, vision and a common way of sharing financial information, Kolb added.

“The dollars were there to keep it open, but no one knew what the other one had, so we ended up in the situation we’re in today,” he said.

While the center’s current situation is unfortunate, there appears to be enough community support to find a way to bring it back to life, Councilman Jeff McGinty said.

“If we were to move forward, we would need a leadership organization and the school district would have to be a big part of it,” McGinty explained.

The city could cover the financial obligations related to the center, but it would need a realistic timeline before making that decision, he said.

A recent decision by the bond counsel, which is responsible for the bonds used to finance the building, makes it possible for the city to use money received from lease payments to cover operations expenses instead of just debt service and capital projects, Poulsbo Finance Director Nanci Lien told the council.

“In the past, that fund could only be used for capital projects like the new roof, which has already been paid for, but now the council has other options it can explore,” Lien said.

The decision by the bond counsel means the council could conceivably keep the center open, and the only payment due in the next six months is the interest payment, which is due in August, she noted.

“You have some time to decide what to do and you do have more options than you did before,” Lien said.

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