Waukesha County Museum officials don't want to leave old courthouse building

Chris Kuhagen
Mayor Jeff Scrima has again suggested moving the Waukesha County Museum, which is housed inside the old Waukesha County Courthouse (pictured), to the library. Interim Museum Chief Executive Officer, Dan Finley, however, said his recommendation is the museum stays.
Published on: 11/5/2013

It's been less than a month since Dan Finley took over as the interim chief executive officer of the Waukesha County Museum.

But plans on the museum's future have been on the fast track since he came back from southern California.

From its location, to what to do with the aging building it's housed in and the museum's current financial struggles, Finley came here to help get those uncertainties answered.

And before he leaves Waukesha in about a month, Finley wants to lay the foundation for the museum's future.

Goal No. 1 is to have the location situation answered.

Finley has stated publicly, to the museum's board and to the Waukesha County Board, he wants to keep it at the old Waukesha County Courthouse, 101 W. Main St.

Looking to stay put

In a Tuesday morning meeting, the museum board told Finley it agrees with him.

Board members don't want to move closer to I-94 (one of the options looked at in a previous study) or to the Waukesha Public Library as Mayor Jeff Scrima has suggested.

This decision should be welcomed news to the Waukesha County Board of Supervisors.

"The county board supervisors at the (last) Finance Committee (meeting) made it abundantly clear that they want us to remain in this building," Finley said. "The old courthouse is probably the most significant building in the county. It's the most recognizable. It's part of the Waukesha County brand."

Scrima, however, said shortly before former Waukesha County Museum Chief Executive Officer Kirsten Lee Villegas resigned at the end of September, the museum should consolidate into the library. The mayor sent an email to Finley and the county board last week saying this option shouldn't be dismissed.

"Writing to once again extend an invitation to discuss the possibility of consolidating the museum into our city library — to together create an outstanding community center of history, reading and culture," Scrima wrote. "This type of collaboration will save the county board money, keep our history afloat and preserve the museum within the City of Waukesha."

After Finley responded that he is recommending the museum remain in the current historic downtown building, Scrima quickly replied: "Have you personally toured our library?"

Not aware of buyers

Scrima said if the museum board had decided to sell the old courthouse building, the city would have assisted in finding a buyer.

"We have already had schools and developers approach us about the old courthouse building," Scrima wrote. "This could be a perfect solution, but we won't know unless we sit down, have the discussion and try."

Scrima said the same thing in an interview last month, but Finley said he has not heard of any potential buyers.

"I'm not aware of anybody who is interested in this building," Finley said. "If the mayor has names that would be great, but no one has contacted us about that."

Even so, Finley said he doesn't believe the building would be usable.

"It's a building that needs some major attention from a redevelopment perspective," Finley said. "There's no parking lot, there's a lot of structural issues with the building itself that severely limits what can be done with that building."

Tearing down jail?

Finley told Scrima he suspects the county board will support staying at the old courthouse. Finley said if the city has a need for office or storage space then he would "be pleased to discuss that option with the city."

Meanwhile, Finley has shared with the Waukesha County Board's Finance Committee his idea of tearing down the old jail connected to the back of the building. He said it's a way to save money and open up space for a small parking lot that could house school buses.

"The county has expressed some preliminary interest in helping us with the demolition of the jail," said Finley, while adding the earliest this would take place is in 2015.

Challenge grant received

Regarding the dire financial aspect, steps have been taken to make up the $150,000 that was cut from museum funding for 2014 in Waukesha County Executive's Dan Vrakas' budget.

The museum got $300,000 from the county last year and Villegas had previously said it would be a struggle for the museum to operate with less than that.

But Finley recently learned an anonymous donor put forth a $50,000 challenge grant. However, it will be based on the county increasing its portion by $50,000. County Supervisor Duane Paulson is also recommending the Finance Committee up its support by $50,000.

If the donation and the county each give $50,000, that leaves the museum $50,000 short of what it received last year. Finley said the museum would hope to raise the money by April 2014.

He said the museum wouldn't accept the county's additional support until it can raise its portion.

"What we told the county is that even if they decide to make up that extra $50,000 based on the challenge grant, they wouldn't have to pay it until we raise that final $50,000 as a way to make it a partnership between the major donor, the museum and the county. We would all do a share to make up that loss and it protects the county."

The Finance Committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to discuss Paulson's proposal, along with the rest of the budget.

"That's the final meeting to discuss the budget," Finley said. "What they'll decide will be forwarded to the full board. It's a key meeting."

When asked if he thinks the extra money will be recommended to the board, Finley said: "I learned a long time ago to not predict the county board."