COLUMBIA — Missouri’s governor has promised a budget increase to a historically underfunded agency, but its director says the money would not be enough to solve its most pressing problem — lack of space.
Gov. Matt Blunt plans to recommend to the Missouri legislature a $100,000 increase in funding for the State Historical Society of Missouri for the fiscal year 2009. According to a Dec. 26 news release from the governor’s office, this would add to the $500,000 increase the governor secured last year and provide the society the largest appropriation ever from the state for the second year in a row.
Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said the legislators will likely pass the proposed budget increase in January. “My kudos to Governor Blunt for recommending this long overdue additional state support,” he said.
According to the news release, Gary Kremer, executive director of the society, told the governor’s communication office that “the governor’s recommendations for the State Historical Society for fiscal year 2009, when enacted, will allow the society to continue important initiatives launched over the past three years, as well as lay the groundwork for erecting a much-needed new facility,”
In an interview, Kremer said he is grateful to the governor, but the $100,000 extra funding promised at this time is still not enough. Kremer is, in fact, hoping for an additional $600,000 in state funding to go toward the planning and design of a new building for the society. He said he expects to get a response from the legislature in mid-May.
“Our major issue is lack of space,” Kremer said. “The society needs a new building with five times more space than the current one.”
The society occupies 36,000 square feet in the east side of Ellis Library. Between 40 and 60 senior researchers visit the site daily.
For 20 years, there has been a vision to expand this space, but the lack of funding prevented this from happening, Kremer said. The organization has suffered severe budget cuts from the state, following the financial reshuffling after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Because of the lack of space, the society’s art gallery currently has to display some of its collection in the hallway. Less than 1 percent of its holdings, including works by Missouri’s famous artists George Caleb Bingham and Thomas Hart Benton, are up for viewing by the public. Huge numbers of books, maps and photographs must be kept in outdated storage rooms, Kremer said.
A suitable location for a new building would be the parking lot bound by Locust, Sixth, Seventh and Elm streets, Kremer said. The location is suitable because it would allow enough space for a larger, new building, and there’s city-owned parking across the street.
In the meantime, the $100,000 promised by Blunt would be used to raise staff salaries, as well as to support historical research.
“Since I have worked here as a director in 2004, we’ve lost nearly half of our staff,” Kremer said. “I want to help our employees get the same salary as the university library staff do and maintain a stable employment.”
The money would also go toward creating a research assistantship in the name of its former executive director Jim Goodrich to allow MU students to study Missouri history, Kremer said. In addition, the society is planning on organizing more workshops on tracing ancestors and publishing two more anthologies to continue its Century of Missouri History Scholarship Series.