By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Plans from a year ago to expand the city’s Oren Dunn museum have stagnated, leaving a concept to add more space to the Ballard Park location to collect dust.
In recent months, the museum’s advisory board hasn’t had enough members show up to have a quorum, much less to make progress. In the current city budget, annual funding for the museum was cut 12.8 percent to $155,919 annually.
The Tupelo City Council will vote Tuesday on a resolution tweaking authority of the museum’s advisory board, limiting power of the group. Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis said the change clarifies the role of the board.
“It was always set up to be an advisory board,” said Lewis, who was recently promoted from director of Parks and Recreation. “But the original resolution went a little further than it needed to go.”
Lewis said the change in language voted on Tuesday by council members will help ensure the volunteer advisory board members serve as “advisers” instead of “overseers.”
This change creates an opportunity to spark new energy into the museum board, a group that went back and forth in recent years looking at different locations for a larger home for the city museum and eventually decided to stay put. A lofty price tag of $10 million ruled out a plan to relocate to the old Carnation Milk Plant.
In 2012, architecture firm JBHM presented a new master plan to the advisory board that included a new 12,500-square-foot building to house the collection while still keeping the current 5,000-square-foot facility for classrooms. It also would continue housing the Veterans Museum and War Memorial. The museum board later voted to stay at Ballard Park.
“They had some great ideas and worked hard to put something together but over different administrations never gained momentum,” Lewis said. “Then it evolved into where we are now.”
Along with formally changing duties of the group, new members likely will be added. Lewis said most members of the board have left, creating a challenge to have enough present to hold a meeting. Among the current members of the 10-member board, three have interest in continuing to serve.
Lewis recently asked council members to also change the number of total members to nine and consider having Mayor Jason Shelton recommend new members, which then would go to City Council for approval. Among the nine advisory board members, two would include the president of the Friends of the Museum and another designee of the group.
While a separate line item in the city budget, the Oren Dunn City Museum operates through the Parks and Recreation department. No current funds are allocated for capital improvements.
Friends of the Museum member Bill Yarbrough, a current advisory board member who said he’s willing to continue to serve on the board, said finding resources to expand the museum likely will be a top priority.
“It’s a challenge to find the money to add on to the museum,” Yarbrough said. “You have to search and see what you can find.”
Ward 5 City Councilman Buddy Palmer served on the original museum board and is now the council liaison. He said he’s still in the process of learning about the needs of the museum but understands the importance of Tupelo showcasing its history for the public.
“Somewhere down the road Tupelo is deserving of a state-of-the-art museum,” he said, “something a lot bigger than what it is.”