Share revenue for marine center maintenance | Editorial

The Poulsbo Marine Science Center Foundation has a sweetheart deal of a lease: A rent-free, renewable, five-year lease on city-owned land overlooking Liberty Bay, and it gets the proceeds from a second-floor sublease to Sealaska Environmental Services. The city is responsible for maintaining the site; damage from the November frozen-pipe burst was paid for by the city’s insurance carrier.

Now, city officials are negotiating with the foundation for a portion of the center’s rental income, to be used for maintenance of the building. That’s only fair. It’s in the best interests of the foundation to share revenue for the center’s maintenance.

Siding needs to be repaired and, according to Mayor Becky Erickson, a new heating and cooling system will cost about $180,000. While the foundation, which lives on donations and the second-floor sublease, may feel its finances would be vulnerable if it has to share the $40,000 it receives from Sealaska, the center is indeed vulnerable without repairs and regular maintenance.

The Marine Science Center is important to the community. Since the 1990s, local students have gone there to learn about the marine environment and good stewardship, and some 30,000 people visited the aquarium between 2007 and 2010.

Foundation President Bruce Harlow has said the foundation secured funding for operations for at least another five years. The foundation has offered the city $15,000 toward the siding replacement if its lease is renewed. Negotiations continue between the foundation and the city.

As reported in a story on page A1 today, the center has weathered several storms since it was conceived. In the 1980s, local teacher Clayton Ham brought the Seattle-based Marine Science Society to Poulsbo, and the society operated a marine science center at Liberty Bay Marina. In 1990, the center moved to its present location, which was built with a $650,000 bond issued to the Poulsbo Public Development Authority. City Finance Director Debbie Booher said the society paid the city about $1,000 a month rent, and the North Kitsap School District rented space in the center and provided marine science education there. Kitsap County also contributes money to the center, which it views as being a benefit to the public.

The bond was refinanced in 2002 when the development authority was dissolved, and the city took ownership of the debt. But the school district pulled out of the partnership because of lack of funding and, in 2005, the center closed.

In 2007, the center reopened under the management of a new Poulsbo Marine Science Foundation, but the foundation has not paid rent since reopening the center. Then, the flooding in November. Aquarium Director Patrick Mus said a donor pulled his or her donations thinking the center was permanently closed.

Poulsbo needs the Marine Science Center — it’s an important educational center and downtown destination. The foundation should receive some of the rental income to cover expenses associated with operating the center; the city should receive some of the rental income to cover expenses associated with maintaining the site and ensuring its viability long into the future.

— Share your opinion. Write Herald, P.O. Box 278, Poulsbo, WA 98370 or rwalker@northkitsapherald.com.

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