While a temporary reopening date has been set for Sept. 1, the Powerhouse Science Center still needs to keep the iconic property looking its best and ready for rental for events.
There’s a lot to be done. Organizers are hoping to assemble a team of volunteers starting at 7:30 a.m. Saturday to have a massive gardening and weeding day.
“We need an army,” Executive Director Nana Naisbitt said in a news release about the work day, which will be held at the center, 1333 Camino del Rio.
Also on the to-do list are projects to be completed over the summer, including numerous painting jobs, moving the large tank from the Plaza, tearing down a wall in the museum, cleaning out the intern pit and education closet and placing ads for the rental of the plaza and science-center space and recruiting sponsors to pay for them.
“I’ve had at least three volunteers in here every day – cleaning, organizing, working on projects,” Naisbitt said. “We’re taking a new look at everything.”
Naisbitt had been on the job only a month when the status of the finances led her to ask for an emergency meeting of the board, which resulted in an abrupt closure May 9. A few days later, Bill Luthy stepped down as president of the board of directors, and Kathleen O’Connor served as interim president until the board could elect a new president at its board meeting last week. O’Connor was officially elected president at the meeting.
Naisbitt and the Powerhouse’s board of directors are planning to present a 12-month strategic plan for the organization to the La Plata Forum at its meeting Tuesday morning, O’Connor said. The forum’s meetings are invitation-only, but the plans also will be released to The Durango Herald, according to Naisbitt.
At the time of the closure, eight employees, most of the staff, were laid off. Joe Lounge, programs and exhibits manager and the only employee retained on staff besides Naisbitt at the time, resigned Monday.
“We’re evaluating our volunteers and the skill sets our volunteers have,” O’Connor said. “But Joe was such a contributor; we’re really going to be missing him.”
Naisbitt hired her son, Jake Sullivan, as a part-time event manager for the summer, which has raised a few eyebrows.
“He’s a professional event manager,” she said. “Not only did Jake organize numerous events for the Telluride Science Research Center (where she was the executive director for 12 years before coming to the Powerhouse), he worked with the Telluride Film Festival and blues festival.”
Sullivan was hired on contract and is not on salary, O’Connor said.
“The board approved it after strictly following the by-laws,” she said. “Nothing in them says you can’t hire relatives, and it has happened before. Nana forwarded his résumé to us, he was experienced, and we needed someone fast, since that’s our only form of income right now.”
Naisbitt said there is a recent precedent for hiring family at the Powerhouse. The last event manager, Sarah Gleason, hired her sister Kat Gleason to be on the event-management team, she said.
The public has been unable to get a clear look at the Powerhouse’s recent financial picture because of a delay in tax filing. Six months after its 2014 fiscal year ended, the science center, a 501(c)3-registered nonprofit, has yet to be audited or its Form 990 return filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Naisbitt has hired certified professional accountant Kandy Shugars, formerly chief financial officer of Telluride Ski and Golf, and auditor David Green from Brighton to complete the process, she said. She anticipates the audit and 990 will be complete by late July.
“We’ve never had an ED (executive director) with a strong business sense,” O’Connor said. “There were things going on we didn’t understand, and we needed someone to go through the financials with a fine-toothed comb. I’m actually really excited because the Powerhouse will be sitting on a more sustainable foundation after we go through these growing pains.”
The science center opened in February 2011 after a $4 million restoration of the historic building that once housed the nation’s first alternate-current power plant. Before that, it existed as a children’s museum within the Durango Arts Center facility.
The Powerhouse had 20,000 paying visitors in 2014, along with 6,500 schoolchildren who came on field trips. The operating budget was $850,000 last year. The center has operated at a loss ever since it opened.
Herald Staff Writer Chuck Slothower contributed to this story.