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COVID-19 revenue losses, failing museum infrastructure could spell the final chapter for nonprofit organization.

Clackamas County Historical Society, established in 1952 as a community repository of historic objects and photos, may itself become history due to COVID-19 revenue losses and failing museum infrastructure.

PMG FILE PHOTO: ELLEN SPITALERI - Clackamas County Historical Society Executive Director Jenna Barganski noted that historic military uniforms donated by local residents are among the most requested items to be viewed at the Museum of the Oregon Territory.CCHS got on the map in 1968, when one of its founding members left her childhood home to the organization. CCHS's other property in Oregon City, the Museum of the Oregon Territory, opened its doors to the public on Sept. 8, 1990. Now, approaching the museum's 30th anniversary, the Clackamas County Historical Society is facing a financial crisis that its leaders are calling a "dire situation."

Jenna Barganski, CCHS executive director, said the group typically receives about 40% of its annual revenue from the museum's Tumwater Ballroom rentals. Combined with losses in revenue from COVID-19 closures, CCHS will again have to dip into its investment account to survive past its museum's 30th anniversary.

"We rely heavily on these events to provide the means to meet our mission," Barganski said. "Unfortunately, the third floor's aging HVAC system completely failed (in June), leaving the Museum of the Oregon Territory building unable to provide a comfortable rental space for groups. As we draw nearer to regaining the ability to host larger events, it is imperative that we replace this inoperable system."

Repairs on the museum's 30-year-old HVAC system had been ongoing for the past several years, costing CCHS many thousands of dollars, Barganski said. By March, the museum was relying on one functioning unit that finally failed in another three month's time. Without a climate-controlled space, CCHS's event coordinator cannot host expected groups to reserve the Tumwater Ballroom, whether or not the governor lifts a ban on indoor gathering larger than 10 people.

"It's possible that we may survive on these reserves through the end of 2020, but after that is unknown," Barganski said.

CCHS's typical annual expenses will be about $183,000, but Barganski estimates the complete overhaul of the HVAC system will cost approximately an extra $148,000.

"Without the Tumwater Ballroom, it's only a matter of time until we run through our reserves and cease operations," she said.

According to reports that CCHS submitted to federal officials, the nonprofit organization had $120,453 in revenue and $211,489 in total expenses for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, when it had about $1.09 million in assets to end the year.

On March 16, the Museum of the Oregon Territory and the Stevens-Crawford Heritage House closed to the public. CCHS tentatively plans to reopen the Museum of the Oregon Territory on Saturday, Aug. 1.

CCHS officials noted that the historical society receives no funding assistance from the city, county or state.

"We understand that many people are facing difficult times right now, but we are asking members of our community for help," Barganski said. "The Tumwater Ballroom has been a community gathering space for decades hosting countless weddings, celebrations of life and significant meetings. In turn, we now ask the community to help with our emergency request."

If you would like more information about ways to help support CCHS, visit clackamashistory.org. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 2211, Oregon City, OR 97045.


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