- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - The Children’s Museum of the Shoals was closed for a short time this autumn, but it reopened on a limited basis.

The museum in Florence closed Sept. 30 for “housekeeping,” but the board of directors is grappling with debt that makes it almost impossible to pay staff, said Vince Brewton, a member of the board.

“We’re struggling to stay afloat,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to settle the debt. We’re putting together a strategic plan to insure our long-term viability.”

The private, nonprofit board owes more than $200,000 to a local bank, a debt that lingers from the dawn of the museum more than a decade ago, Brewton said.

“If we can get that off our backs, maybe it will give us enough breathing room to do the kind of fundraisers that allow us to stay open,” he said.

The museum’s board approached the Florence City Council more than a year ago and asked that the city take over the museum’s operations, which included paying off the debt. The council declined but offered to make an annual allocation of $10,000 to assist with operations.

Before the council will approve the allocation, the board must submit a current financial statement and show how the allocation would be used.

“We just learned of the council’s offer to provide $10,000, so a financial statement for the city is forthcoming,” board member Brenda Webb said.

She said the bank is working with the board to manage the debt.

The museum building is owned by the Deibert Foundation, which also owns the surrounding park. It has a long-term agreement with the city to maintain the park.

“The board is putting together a plan to raise money - as all nonprofits need to do on a regular basis,” Webb said.

The financial stress apparently is taking a toll on the board.

“We’re in flux as a board as to membership,” Brewton said. “We’re trying to get clarity from certain board members, whether they are still on the board. It’s been hard to get a quorum.”

The board chairman resigned for personal reasons unrelated to the museum, and a new chairman has not been selected.

It’s an all-volunteer board that does not receive compensation, Webb said.

“Board members who have careers that require a lot of time and attention need to juggle a lot of expectations,” she said.

Webb and Brewton work for the University of North Alabama.

Mayor Mickey Haddock said the city has no interest in owning or operating the museum, but is willing to provide some help.

“I told them if they want us to participate, they need to give us a business model about how they want to go forward in the future,” he said.

Haddock said he also suggested the board consider partnering with local high schools that have arts and robotics programs. The award-winning Brooks High School robotics team installed one of its creations in the museum several months ago.

“The absence of funding is the challenge we’re facing,” Brewton said. “There’s no question we are facing an uphill battle.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/

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