Wheaton's Center for History may close

Time could be running out for Wheaton's Center for History.

Center representatives say the museum might be forced to close later this year unless the Wheaton City Council resurrects a contract with the facility.

It's been more than a year since council members terminated a longtime agreement that paid the center $225,000 annually to preserve and promote local history.

Alberta Adamson, the center's president and CEO, said funding from the city at one time represented nearly half of the budget for the museum, which operates out of two locations - 606 N. Main St. and 315 W. Front St.

Now the center is in debt and unable to pay the $5,000-a-month rent for its Front Street location. Adamson said she and the center's only other staff member, a part-time employee, both haven't been paid since April.

"It's desperate," Adamson said of the center's financial situation.

On Monday, Adamson and others made a public plea for the council to draft a new agreement with the center. It's estimated that the center needs about $216,000 more a year to continue providing its services to the community.

"The city should be ecstatic about preserving its history and bringing it to the forefront," she said. "Other towns are proud to do it."

However, the council remains noncommittal on the center's request. There are no immediate plans to discuss it, city officials said.

In the meantime, the Wheaton Historic Preservation Council, which operates the center, has issued a statement saying both museum facilities are visited by as many as 15,000 visitors a year. Last month, the center presented 22 education programs to students, girl scouts and adult groups.

That high public demand - along with staff reductions - has put constraints on the ability of the center to raise money privately and promote the museum.

Last December, the WHPC had to sell property it owned at 1746 Naperville Road to pay down its debt. The not-for-profit group had hoped the site could be used to build a new museum "to showcase Wheaton's heritage and to consolidate the (center's) facilities."

Adamson said she now worries about what could happen to approximately 50,000 historic objects if the center were to close.

"You can't throw them away," she said. "You can't sell them. You can't give them away. Somebody's got to take care of them."