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Funding for Discovery Center gets questioned

Funding for Discovery Center gets questioned Funding for Discovery Center gets questioned

The Harrison County Discovery Center’s 2021 budget received approval from the Harrison County Parks Board after a board member changed his vote, allowing the budget to advance to county officials.

The Discovery Center’s upcoming budget comes in at $221,756.75, which is nearly $10,000 higher than the 2020 budget. Increases include a 5% pay raise for part-time employees and the administrator, but Larry Shickles, superintendent of the parks department, said county officials will likely set a raise much lower than that percentage.

An area that generated discussion was the Harrison County Discovery Center.

Parks board member Scott Fluhr said the interactive museum, located in downtown Corydon, needs to generate more revenue to remain open.

“How do you justify a pay increase?” Fluhr asked during the parks board special meeting last Wednesday via teleconference, held to approve the 2021 budget for the center and the county parks.

Fluhr was the only board member initially voting against the budget. But, with three board members absent, it was enough to cause the motion to fail.

“We should be trimming cost,” Fluhr said.

The Discovery Center will enter its fifth year of operation in 2021, with the county spending more than $1.2 million to fund it during that time, including this coming year.

Shickles said it will never generate enough revenue to be self-sufficient. He added that tourism for the county has suffered due to a lack of help from the state promoting the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site.

“The Indiana State Historic Site, the Indiana State Museum, has failed to operate a facility that continues to draw people to Corydon,” Shickles said.

With the value of visiting the capitol building no longer there, he said others are trying to do all they can to attract people to Corydon and Harrison County.

Fluhr ended up changing his vote, allowing the Discovery Center to continue operating in 2021, but not before Shickles questioned if the museum should close now if it were to not open next year and due to the pandemic limiting its operations for most of 2020.

“They need to know they need to do better,” Fluhr said. “There’s an expectation.”

Shickles said if the county can develop more campgrounds near downtown, that could attract more visitors to the Discovery Center, which could offer evening hours. He added these visitors could also visit Hayswood Theatre, dine at downtown restaurants and visit the First State Capitol Building.

“Museums don’t grow fast,” Shickles said.

He added the Discovery Center had begun staying open late on Fridays and showed some promise before winter and the pandemic this year.

The center was also closing in on an exhibit that looked at downtown Corydon from the 1970s, but that project has been pushed to 2021, according to Shickles.

Next year could also see an exhibit for Walter Q. Gresham, the Lanesville native who served as United States Secretary of State from 1893 until his death in 1895. The exhibit was originally planned for this year.

“Your five-year plan of growth would be this year, and, unfortunately, we hit a terrible year for the entire world,” said parks board member Heather Davis.

The board also approved the parks 2021 budget, coming in at $1,278,496.20. All four members present on the teleconference call approved it.

Shickles added the county would also not exclude one group of county employees from receiving a raise while giving one to all other departments.

The parks board next regular meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 22, at 7 p.m.