History museum must leave Everett’s Carnegie Building, but has few options

EVERETT — The eviction date has passed. So has an extension.

Now a chunk of Snohomish County’s past faces more uncertainty as it continues to search for a home.

The Snohomish County Museum of History was supposed to move the rest of its collection from the basement of Snohomish County

‘s Carnegie Building a week ago, but it’s been unable to find storage space it can afford. County officials warned museum directors recently that artifacts could be damaged when a contractor starts work to make the 1905 building more earthquake-ready. It wasn’t clear last week exactly when that work might start, but it’s expected soon.

“Damage to the collection is not acceptable,” said Barbara George, the museum’s executive director.

The impasse has left the museum’s leaders feeling upset and betrayed. A county official on the other side of the table, meanwhile, said he, too, is frustrated because he did everything he could to make things work.

A partnership between the nonprofit museum and the county government was supposed to give the collection a semi-permanent home in the building at Oakes Avenue and Wall Street.

Instead, what George and other museum leaders say they got is “political grandstanding” and a contract with terms they would never be able to meet.

“Personally, I feel betrayed by this,” said Greg Rielly, the museum’s board president.

Deputy County Executive Gary Haakenson said the county let the museum’s directors know a year ago that they would have to move. The county has pushed back the move-out deadline and has even offered money to help with the move. County attorneys also advised Haakenson that the county is legally unable to give the space away for free.

“I was more than fair to the museum folks,” he said. “I’m sorry they weren’t able to raise the money, but we did everything we could.”

Objects in the museum’s collection include a gun from the 1916 Everett Massacre, the bloody labor battle on a city dock that left deputies and union members dead. Some of the other pieces are old projectors, sewing machines and stoves.

The museum hasn’t had a place to display items since 2007, when financial problems forced it to close its space on Everett’s Hewitt Avenue. The same year, an Everett warehouse where the museum was storing its collection caught fire. The collection escaped the fire itself, but old newspapers, insurance maps and antique clothing were damaged by water used to douse the flames.

In 2007, a portion of County Executive Aaron Reardon’s annual budget speech focused on the museum’s work and how his administration intended to help.

“In this budget, we are offering a 50-year lease of the County’s Carnegie Library building to the Museum at $1 per year if they can establish a community partnership to create ongoing fiscal stability for the museum,” Reardon said.

The museum moved into the Carnegie Building basement the following year. It appeared to be a good fit for the storied county building with a charming brick facade. A grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie paid for its original construction. The building began life as a public library before later uses as a mortuary and for the county jail’s work-release program.

The partnership with the museum helped the county secure an $882,000 grant from the Washington State Historical Society for building renovations, including the upcoming seismic upgrades. The grant amount was later reduced.

Rielly and George said volunteers put a substantial amount of work into the building, thinking they would be staying there. Architect Sandra Alder contributed building plans worth an estimated $140,000.

The arrangement fell apart this spring after the county sent over a proposed contract.

“They dragged it out and gave us terms that no one would accept,” Rielly said.

Instead of paying $1 per year, the museum learned it would pay a unspecified reduced market rate over 35 years, not 50 years. The rate would be negotiated every five years. The museum also would have to raise about $5 million to overhaul the interior of the building, including plumbing, wiring and flooring.

“It wasn’t just your standard tenant improvement,” George said.

Haakenson said that during discussions, he was willing to accept the museum raising substantially less money if it could show good faith.

The museum has not had an active fundraising campaign. Nevertheless, it has been raising about $15,000 in recent years, George said. She and the curator are volunteers. Potential donors have told the museum’s leadership that they’re unwilling to give money because no signed agreement is in place with the museum.

Rielly is upset about all the effort museum supporters put into what he considers an unworkable plan. He wants to know how the county can “make us whole.”

“We’re walking away basically with nothing,” he said. “Because they now have a different plan, we now have to eat that.”

He added, “I almost feel like they don’t want us any more because they don’t need us.”

The county isn’t sure about other possible uses for the Carnegie Building, Haakenson said, though there are county departments that could use extra space.

Museum officials said they’ve appreciated County Councilman Brian Sullivan’s support and advocacy. Sullivan said last week he agrees the county’s proposed lease offered the museum unrealistic terms, especially given the current fundraising climate.

“People in the public need to take a look at that lease,” he said. “I don’t think anybody could have met those conditions.”

Alternative plans have failed to materialize, aside from Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson offering temporary use of 1,200 square feet at the city’s Culmback Building.

Despite Everett’s help, which George called “gracious,” the museum still needs another 3,000 square feet to house the approximately 80 percent of the collection that’s in limbo.

They’ve searched spaces from south Everett to Monroe. So far, the cheapest rent they’ve found is about $2,000 per month, far more than what they have. The county has offered $10,000 to help with the move, but George said they won’t be able to use the money until they have more room.

“If we could have 1,000 square feet, that’s a start,” George said.

Movers are planning to take some items to the Culmback Building on Tuesday.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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