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updated: 7/9/2013 5:03 PM

Cuts lead to new partnerships for Elgin museum

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  • Elgin Public Museum Executive Director Peggie Stromberg and Coordinator Mike McGrath are looking forward to Thursday's Paleontology Pizza Night.

       Elgin Public Museum Executive Director Peggie Stromberg and Coordinator Mike McGrath are looking forward to Thursday's Paleontology Pizza Night.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Learn about the Gail Borden Public Library's SuperCroc and fossils from library staff at Thursday's Paleontology Pizza Night, a fundraiser for the Elgin Public Museum.

      Learn about the Gail Borden Public Library's SuperCroc and fossils from library staff at Thursday's Paleontology Pizza Night, a fundraiser for the Elgin Public Museum.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
By Jennifer Tranmer
jtranmer@dailyherald.com

Funding cuts and a depleting reserves have meant financial stress for the Elgin Public Museum. In recent years that has meant cutting special events like Native American Heritage Day and reducing open hours to four per day Tuesday through Sunday in the summer, and opening only on the weekends in the winter.

Because of this, museum board members been increasing efforts to collaborate with other establishments to raise funds, including Thursday's Paleontology Pizza Night with the Gail Borden Public Library and Danny's Pizza, which is hosting the event from 5 to 8 p.m. at its Elgin location, 231 Douglas Ave.

"There comes a time when you realize that the way of doing things needs to change," said Peggie Stromberg, executive director of the museum.

Since it opened in 1920, the Elgin Public Museum has been educating visitors about the region's natural history and anthropology at 225 Grand Blvd. in Elgin's Lord's Park. But enhancing knowledge of the region's history, as it says in the museum's mission statement, has proved difficult because of fewer funds.

The museum has received riverboat funds, a gaming tax fund that supports nonprofits in the area, starting in 1994. Since 2001, the revenue has been steadily decreasing from more than $29.5 million to $14.3 million in 2012.

Last year Elgin Mayor David Kaptain decided to change the system of distribution: Instead of giving money to a few nonprofits, nonprofits had to apply for grants through the central fund. So, the museum asked the city to be designated under a separate category from the nonprofits to get a steady flow of money, said Clare Ollayos, a 20-year museum board member.

Even with the changed source of funding, Stromberg said the museum's reserve funds have depleted to the point that collaborations are becoming a greater priority.

Budget cuts have been hurting nonprofits and their communities for the last several years, Kaptain said, agreeing that partnerships are part of the solution.

"We need an effort to increase efficiencies," he said.

The city is leading by example, partnering with Hoffman Estates in the Fourth of July festival.

In addition to cuts in city funding, the Elgin Public Museum has had fewer visitors, largely because of a struggling economy, said Stromberg, who noted Elgin Area School District U-46 had to discontinue regular visits by students because of cutbacks.

Thursday night, dinosaur-themed foods at the pizza bar, kids' games, activities and crafts, raffles and movies and informational tables about fossils will be available. Families can also learn about dinosaurs and the library's SuperCroc exhibit. All the proceeds from the pizza bar and raffle go directly to the museum.

Despite budget struggles, Stromberg said retooling efforts combined with partnerships like Paleontology Pizza Night will help the museum survive.

"I'm not interested in closing the doors," she stressed. "The museum has been here as part of Elgin since the late 1800s. It survived the Great Depression, so it'll weather this too," she assured.

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