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Johnson County adds professional position for development

Fundraising for the county museum and park district, now run by volunteers, will get a little professional help as officials look toward next year’s opening of new Arts and Heritage Center in the former King Louie bowling lanes.

The Johnson County Commission decided Thursday to add a new staff position to coordinate fundraising for the museum exhibits and park activities. The person who becomes the new full-time development director will lead the existing fundraising groups and help them come up with cohesive strategies to bring in more money to support museum and park activities.

No salary has been set yet, but Park and Recreation Director Jill Geller said she expected the range to be $58,000 to $75,000 per year.

The development director job comes with “aggressive” goals, Geller said. The director will be expected to raise an average of $500,000 a year for the first three years, with the amount increasing to $1 million a year eventually.

Commissioners, who unanimously supported the move, said they hoped the fundraising czar would put the center and the museum in particular on a path toward becoming more self-sustaining. The museum became part of the park district last year as it prepares to move to the new center.

“The original intent when we moved the museum over to the parks is that the programming in that facility is self-sustaining,” said Commissioner Steve Klika. “I’m really pleased you’re moving forward with it. I only wish it happened sooner and we could get a head start on some of this.”

However, the museum will still be partly supported by county tax dollars, as it currently is, said County Manager Hannes Zacharias. He also said the fundraising efforts will maintain ethical standards to avoid “quid pro quo” arrangements with donors.

Museum supporters have been scrambling to get together about $2 million needed to have exhibits ready for the opening at the Arts and Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave. The new space at the former bowling alley and ice rink is configured differently, and will require some changes in the exhibits and how they’re displayed. The 1950s All Electric House has also been moved inside the center, and has expenses relating to its exhibition inside another building.

Fundraisers for the museum have said they’d had difficulty raising the money quickly enough and might come up short. The museum also has suffered the loss of state funding with the end of the Heritage Trust Fund.

In July, the commission advanced the museum $500,000 against the eventual sale of the current building at 6305 Lackman Road. The amount will be paid back once a sale is final.

Fundraising for the museum and park activities is currently handled by the Museum Foundation and the Parks and Recreation Foundation, both nonprofits. The new development director would lend his or her expertise in strategies and lead those groups and any “friends of” groups that spring up for specific activities.

The new position was already in the budget and will be paid out of the current mill levy.

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