Vets Commission to Recommend Professional Fundraisers
By Michael McAllister
In an unusual but colorful setting—Story Room at the Drake Community Library—Grinnell’s Veterans Memorial Commission met in regular session at 5:15 p.m., Monday, May 8, and continued to move toward the goal of converting the Veteran Memorial Building to an artist residency with emphasis on veterans.
Commission Chair Leo Lease opened with the comment that only 192 days remain until the November levy vote and that much work is required between now and then. He also reminded those in attendance of the procedures that the Commission must follow. For example, if an action calls for the expenditure of funds, Grinnell’s City Council must approve.
At that point, Lease called the roll.
All four commission board members were present: Gwen Rieck and Marie Andrews (above, from left), and Leo Lease and George Fowler (below, from left). The Commission remains one member short since the resignation of Ed Adkins earlier this year.
Following roll call and approval of the current agenda and previous meeting minutes, Commission Chair Lease asked for a budget update from Nicole Brua-Behrens (below) of the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation; she reported an ending fund balance as of March 31 of $24,704.
In response to an earlier question from Lease, Brua-Behrens provided clarification of a line item—the sum of $3,225 listed as “Program Expenses.” This sum, she reported, results from expenditures through July 1, 2016, primarily involving “mold mitigation.” The Grinnell City Council approves such expenses, and the city is reimbursed through veterans memorial funds.
A second report came from Tom Lacina (above) and consisted of a summary of the artist residency proposal as it stands now and answers to questions he has been asked frequently while presenting the proposal throughout Grinnell.
- The new building is designed to complement and enhance the appearance of Central Park.
- The cost of the renovated building is expected to reach $2 million.
- Funding will be sought from four broad sources: locally, statewide and regionally, the City of Grinnell, and grants.
- While levy passage is essential to the success of the program, it will likely be reserved for final building renovation, building maintenance, and operation of the program.
- If the levy is approved in November, it will result in a 41-cent-per-$1,000 cost—or $41 per $100,000 valuation. It is a city levy, so it will not apply outside the city limits, and only residents of Grinnell will vote on the issue in November.
- Will funds from the levy be paid to artists? While stipends may go to individual artists, that money will come from separate funds—perhaps from endowments established for specific purposes.
- With its emphasis on veteran participation, the program will be unique in the United States and will draw up to 50 artists per year to involvement in the community and to some programs intended to assist and recognize those who have served in the military.
- Space—“a good deal of space”—on the upper level will be dedicated for use by local veterans and by the community. The building will not be entirely an artist residency.
- The Veterans Memorial Commission has approved the project.
- The building and its programs will be operated by a contract agency, possibly the Grinnell Area Arts Council. Neither the Veterans Memorial Commission nor the City of Grinnell will be responsible for day-to-day operations.
The campaign, Lacina continued, is currently in a quiet phase, giving the community a chance to reflect and discuss. Plans are for a major announcement and official local and statewide campaigns to be launched toward the end of June. The weeks between that point and the November vote present “a doable time frame,” according to Lacina.
The meeting continued with Lease addressing the issue known as Plan B, which is essentially the question of what happens if the levy does not pass. Reinforcing comments from earlier meetings, he reported that he has received assurance that the northwest corner of Central Park will remain dedicated to a veterans memorial in some way. That assurance can serve as consolation, but it should not detract from the main goal. “We’re really going to have to put our hearts into it,” he continued, and he encouraged those in attendance to discuss the building proposal within the community and to seek answers to any questions that arise.
Under the topic of upcoming events, the Commission has established the third Thursday of every mnth as the regular date of the Pizza Ranch fundraising event. This month, the date is May 18.
As the meeting turned to new business, Lease presented two proposals: contracting a professional fundraising organization and eliminating utility expenses at the Veterans Memorial Building. Both proposals would need to go to the Grinnell City Council for additional approval.
The first proposal calls for taking $10,000 of the $24,704 and using it to contract a professional fundraising organization to spearhead the building renovation campaign. Of the $10,000, approximately $1,000 would go to logo design, $4,000 to a direct mailing and program information campaign, and $5,000 to hire fundraising personnel to expand the campaign through the state and nation.
“I’m not at liberty to reveal the names of the people,” Lease stated, “but they’re very good at what they do. They’ve raised millions of dollars.”
Lease turned to the other members of the board. He asked, “Is it worth taking almost half the money that has been collected by all the people’s hard work and risking it on something like this”—a professional fundraising organization. He added, however, that such an organization will generally produce more money than it will cost.
“I think we should do it,” George Fowler affirmed. A motion and a second followed, and the board was unanimous in its decision to submit the plan to the city council. Lease will do so in the form of a letter.
The second new business item involved utility costs referred to earlier in the meeting as part of the $3,225 “Program Expenses.” Lease referred to a document he had received from the city and projected a savings of approximately $1,000 over the next few months if electricity to the Veteran Memorial Building were stopped.
The purpose of the service now, he stated, is to combat the mold problem, but mold will not be a significant factor if the entire building is renovated.
Lease asked co-board members for permission to include this second proposal with the first in his letter to the city council, and a motion was made, seconded, and unanimously approved.
The meeting moved to the inquiry section, and discussion continued concerning the issue of cutting off electricity. With summer approaching and high humidity in the offing, should air flow be eliminated and the potential for mold buildup heightened? And should all the effort of the past to eliminate mold go for naught?
Tom Lacina suggested that John Bushong could provide advice on the electricity issue and offered to contact him on behalf of the commission. Lease said that he would appreciate such input and reminded attendees that the city council will be the authority on any such action.
In the final minutes of the meeting, additional questions and suggestions involved use of the building and its programs to benefit young people and methods of promoting the project, such as the Iowa State Fair.
The next regular meeting of the Veterans Memorial Commission is scheduled for June 12, 2017, at 5:15 p.m., in the Community Room at the Drake Library.