- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 19, 2012

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago’s renowned Field Museum, a major center of global scientific research, has announced plans to cut staff, overhaul operations and limit the scope of its research because of a high debt load and the recession.

The natural history museum might also change hours of operation and raise admission prices for special exhibits at one of the city’s best-known cultural attractions, museum officials said Tuesday.

The Field Museum is known for its research into plants and animals and impressive collections, including Sue, the world’s largest and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex.

The Field’s cost-cutting measures will be an opportunity to refocus the mission of the museum, which was founded in 1893, officials said.

They hope to cut $5 million in costs and increase the museum’s endowment by $100 million. Museum staff and board members will work on a plan between now and July 1.

The staff cuts will be aimed at curators and scientists. The museum will also focus more on its own collections and be more selective in choosing outside exhibits that cost more money to organize.

“If we wrestle these issues to the ground successfully, our future is rosy,” the Field’s president and CEO, Richard Lariviere, told the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board.

Lariviere, the former University of Oregon president, started work at the museum in October.

Lariviere said the museum has more $170 million in outstanding bonds. He called that “very high” compared with the institution’s $300 million endowment. The bonds cost the Field more than $7 million a year, taking a bite out of an operating budget of less than $70 million.

“Our credit cards are maxed out,” Lariviere told the Tribune.

The Field Museum is one of Chicago’s top tourist attractions, drawing 1.3 million visitors in 2011.

The cost-cutting plan follows earlier attempts to trim $5 million, also primarily through staff cuts. But rising bond debt and operating deficits over the past decade have combined with flat revenues and dwindling government subsidies to put a financial squeeze on the institution.

Despite the possible hike in ticket prices, Lariviere said the average patron shouldn’t notice much of a change in the short term.

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