The city has said that the museum might have to be closed because of continuing budget shortfalls.
Jim Bensberg, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, said senior county officials have had informal talks about the county taking over the museum with City Manager Penelope Culbreth-Graft, but, “They’ve not acknowledged or responded to our offer.”
City spokeswoman Sue Skiffington-Blumberg was dismissive about any proposal from the county.
“That’s one of about three dozen options, including proposals to relocate the convention and visitors bureau in the museum,” she said. “It’s not being taken seriously by the city – it’s a pie in the sky option. To say that it’s something that we’re seriously investigating would be way overstated.”
However, Vice Mayor Larry Small said that he welcomes the county’s interest.
“I’d like to see us do that,” he said, “I think it’s pretty positive. We’ve been encouraging joint ventures with the county, and I’m eager to learn more.”
Museum director Matt Mayberry also was supportive.
“It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Mayberry said, “I’m intrigued by the idea. Our first priority is to figure out how to preserve the collection and get back to being a viable institution.”
Commissioner Sallie Clark said that the museum is a vital community asset.
“Right now, the museum is closed so much that it’s not really open to the public,” she said. “It’s a benefit to the county, not just the city. It’s our history – it’s too important to lose.”
The building, formerly the El Paso County Courthouse, was transferred to the city by the county to serve as the home of the Pioneers Museum during the 1970s. Prior to the transfer, the county had considered tearing down the iconic structure and replacing it with a new courthouse.
Residents, led by retired Army Gen. Ken Curtis, persuaded the county to abandon the plan.
Noting its history, Clark said that she would want some assurance of protection for the building if the county took it back.
“I wouldn’t want there ever to be discussions about tearing it down,” she said.
Neither Culbreth-Graft nor County Administrator Jeff Greene could be reached for comment this morning.